An infertile contention

October 16, 2013 § 119 Comments

Catholic consequentialists who pretend to follow Veritatis Splendour and the tradition of the Church are always trying to recast the “object” of an act as, not the objective part of the act – the behavior chosen by the acting subject – but as the goal of an act or what motivates the act. The objective part of a human act (the “object”) is a “goal” only in a very limited sense: as you initiate a behaviour in the will your “goal” is to move your body or use other powers under the control of your will to make that specific behaviour a reality.
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An intrinsically immoral act is one in which “that specific behaviour” – the object – is knowingly chosen by the acting subject and is an immoral behaviour.  In the case of sex, “that specific behaviour” is either the sort of behavior that sometimes naturally and without interference results in pregnancy and children, or it is a modified unnatural behavior which by its nature qua behaviour attempts to gain the other benefits of sex while ruling out pregnancy.  The former kinds of behaviour are consistent with the telos of sex; the latter are not.  Choosing natural intercourse is consistent with the telos of sex.  Choosing sodomy or condomistic sex isn’t.
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But Catholic consequentialists are always trying to conflate the deliberate choice of specific behaviors with intentions – with what the person is ultimately trying to accomplish, with whether or not the couple is actually trying to and wants to get pregnant, etc.  That is tommyrot.  Veritatis Splendour:
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Such theories however are not faithful to the Church’s teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition.
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One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its “object” — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.
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Recent attacks on the traditional understanding of the telos of sex are ill founded, because they rest on a faulty understanding of what the natural law is and is not.  Natural law is not “basically law which can be derived by a fair minded and reasoned look at the facts.”  Natural law is moral precepts derived from the metaphysical nature of persons and things.  The nature of persons and things are such that certain kinds of sexual behaviours are the kind of behaviours which produce children.  This doesn’t mean that they always actually do produce children; just that they are the kind of behaviour which produces children.
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Other kinds of sexual behaviours, intrinsically by their nature qua behaviour, block the generation of children.
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The Social Pathologist writes:
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The natural law tradition which Humanae Vitae sought to uphold was right in upholding the traditional principle that coitus should not be privated  but wrong in its understanding of what constituted a privation.  In asking men to conform to the laws of nature they were asking men to conform to the understanding of the laws of nature as understood in the medieval period, not the laws of nature as understood by modern science. The document has the remarkable distinction of being right in principle but wrong in application due to an error of fact.
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Modern scientific triumphalism cannot change human nature and the metaphysical nature of sexual acts, and it is more than a little precious to propose that those benighted people who lived in the dark and ignorant past didn’t know that some sex acts are infertile.  Heck, surgeons have been doing vasectomies for 500 years or more.  St. Augustine knew all about a woman’s infertile periods more than a millennium and a half ago.   There has been absolutely no new “scientific” information, for thousands of years or more, that could affect the metaphysical nature of the sex act.

§ 119 Responses to An infertile contention

  • Cane Caldo says:

    Modern scientific triumphalism cannot change human nature and the metaphysical nature of sexual acts, and it is more than a little precious to propose that those benighted people who lived in the dark and ignorant past didn’t know that some sex acts are infertile. Heck, surgeons have been doing vasectomies for 500 years or more. St. Augustine knew all about a woman’s infertile periods more than a millennia and a half ago. There has been absolutely no new “scientific” information, for thousands of years or more, that could affect the metaphysical nature of the sex act.

    Great paragraph, and a sentiment worth being recalled with much more frequency.

  • Scott W. says:

    This doesn’t mean that they always actually do produce children; just that they are the kind of behaviour which produces children.

    As a high school catechist who occasionally received the objection that infertile couples could be married so why not homosexuals, I sometimes used the football team analogy. The telos of a football team is to win football games. Even if they lose every single match they play, the telos does not change and they do not cease to be a football team based on a losing record. Sexual activities outside the bounds of chastity is like lining up both teams on the same side of the football and hence, ceases to be football.

  • Peter Blood says:

    “…as understood in the medieval period,…”

    It’s good sport to kick around our Christian forbears, isn’t it?

  • Zippy says:

    Peter Blood:
    It’s good sport to kick around our Christian forbears, isn’t it?

    “We know so much more today, so now my favorite sexual perversions are morally permissible, because SCIENCE!” has been a really popular approach for perverts, adulterers, and sodomites for quite some time. It used to surprise me how frequently ostensible ‘conservatives’ would take it seriously, like Charlie Brown faced once again with Lucy and the football, convinced that In This Cosmetically Modified Form It Is Different.

  • I attempted to put this comment on his OP, but couldn’t, due to technical challenges, and had saved it and just now remembered.

    ‘Intriguing start, but you talk around the issue. You refer to “fact”, yet never name any specifically.

    I agree. Natural law argumentation can be problematic in the face of those who say, in effect, “nature is, as nature does”.

    Part of the problem is that due to the Fall, Natural Law is not so obvious. Our fallen minds are in a compromised, weakened state. Once grace has aided our fallen reason, the Natural Law can appear so obvious a child could see it. But to those not yet living the way of grace, Natural Law arguments are of limited value and effectiveness.

    Theological anthropology can be of some use, but presupposes at least a minimum of belief or an openness to believing.

    The best course is to refer everything back to Christ. He not only reveals God to man, but also man to himself–and in such a way that does not stand or fall on scientific knowledge or the lack thereof.

    Christ reveals to us a dignity we possess that we could never deduce on our own. If he is like us in all things but sin, the implications are almost irresistible, once grasped.

    Once we perceive our human nature in light of Christ, the Church’s constant teaching against contraception is no longer such a “hard saying”.’

    I offer it here, as it seems to resonate with what you have said.

  • Aquinas Dad says:

    And here I was half complete with a post pointing out the same flaws in that particular post and the post of Dalrock’s which followed. We written and timely

  • Zippy says:

    It is as if some folks are willing to believe that technologically developing a scientific understanding of the body, and concomitantly ever more clever ways to commit murder, is capable of changing the metaphysical nature of murder.

  • Fake Herzog says:

    Zippy,

    Thanks so much for this post. I think I finally figured out the best way to ask what has been bothering me. Of course I reject the idea that contraception could in any way be moral or licit given additional scientific understanding of the human body. But, what seems problematic to me, both in the Church’s early days and now, is that if we all agree that the telos of sex is for reproduction than why does the Church allow sexual relations to occur during a woman’s infertile periods? In other words, I think The Social Pathologist is right to highlight the fact that the human female body seems to have been created to allow men and women to enjoy sexual relations without having children. But we know this to be true of other sexually illicit actions (e.g. masturbation). If the natural law teaches us that sex is ultimately about babies, then shouldn’t we ONLY be having sex to create babies — full stop?

  • Zippy says:

    Fake Herzog:

    Consider the kind of sexual act that sometimes naturally generates children, as distinct from deliberately mutilated sexual acts.

    As has been known since time (literally) immemorial, it is not the nature of this act to always generate children. Furthermore, it is not the metaphysical nature of man to know which of these acts generate children and which do not. He may know statistical likelihoods accidentally (where “he discovered it on purpose” still means “accidentally” in this metaphysical sense, because it is not his nature to just know it). In the future he may even know this with certainty about specific acts. But it is not his nature qua man to know it.

    If humans were like (some) other animals and the females only mated when in heat and fertile, it might be different. If pigs could fly and all that. But that isn’t a part of human sexual nature: it is part of the nature of some animals.

    Now, as I’ve discussed before and as the Magisterium affirms, persistently engaging in acts which are licit in themselves under the natural law with selfish motives is still morally wrong — because of the selfish motives. Selfish motives are always morally wrong no matter what we are doing: it is wrong for me to give to the poor as a way of boasting to others how great a Christian I am.

    But this is entirely distinct from the metaphysical nature of the act as a chosen behaviour: from evaluation of the intrinsic morality of the act under the natural law, that is, based on the metaphysical nature of persons and sex.

  • Zippy says:

    (FYI to readers, it was an email from Fake Herzog which prompted this post).

  • slumlord says:

    No love Zippy?

    Modern scientific triumphalism cannot change human nature and the metaphysical nature of sexual acts, and it is more than a little precious to propose that those benighted people who lived in the dark and ignorant past didn’t know that some sex acts are infertile.

    So do metaphysical truths conflict with empirical ones?

    That’s a crypto Averroist approach.

    So the Church was right in its persecution of Galilleo? I can see the defence now: While it’s empirically true the the Earth rotates about the Sun, it’s metaphysically true that the Sun rotates around the Earth. See no problem. It was all a misunderstanding.

    Consider the kind of sexual act that sometimes naturally generates children, as distinct from deliberately mutilated sexual acts.

    Frame shift.

    BTW. My post did not deal with the subject of contraception. I know its difficult to focus at times but do try. When splitting hairs precision is required and conflating contraception with in-fecundity does not help. I looked in vain at my post for the term condomistic sex, it just wasn’t there.

    @Fake Herzog.

    If the natural law teaches us that sex is ultimately about babies, then shouldn’t we ONLY be having sex to create babies — full stop?

    That position is logically consistent, and from what I understand, the Leberve faction uphold this principle. There was long tradition within the Church of regarding sex only licit if done for the purpose of procreation. Castii Connubii had a fair amount of intellectual resistance. Augustine would not have been amused.

    Still Castii seemed to legitimise infecund coitus only because coital rights were permanent and fertility was involuntarily not As Zippy so eloquently put it.

    ” Furthermore, it is not the metaphysical nature of man to know which of these acts generate children and which do not.”

    What absolved the participants of any guilt were factors beyond human control. Once the mechanics of ovulation became apparent then “man metaphysically knew” and coitus became problematic.

  • Zippy says:

    Slumlord:
    Just what are these new facts, previously completely unknown, about the marital act, that have any bearing whatsoever? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • Zippy says:

    Fake Herzog:

    Slumlord’s little game, in case you aren’t onto it, is to try to create a narrative where either only actually-procreative sex is morally licit – which is manifestly ridiculous, because most people most of the time don’t even know which sex acts are actually procreative – or, surprise surprise, all sorts of fun things previously forbidden within Christianity are back on the negotiating table. IOW either you are some kind of fundy backward SSPX nutcase who would only allow sex when you are sure your wife is ovulating or, guess what, contraception and other perverse mutilations of the sex act are now considered morally licit.

    He’s played that game since before the manosphere existed; but there are always new audiences for heresy.

    Slumlord, I have a personal question: do you prescribe (or have you ever prescribed) contraceptives for your patients? Do you make (or have you made) referrals for contraceptive services?

  • Fake Herzog says:

    Zippy,

    Just wanted to thank you for this excellent discussion, in particular your response to me at 11:09 AM. For me, analogies are always helpful, and I thought this one was good:

    “If humans were like (some) other animals and the females only mated when in heat and fertile, it might be different. If pigs could fly and all that. But that isn’t a part of human sexual nature: it is part of the nature of some animals.”

  • Zippy says:

    Fake Herzog:
    You are welcome.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    Sex act is ordered to procreation but the actors themselves need not be, and it is better they are not, intending to procreate.
    Self-forgetfulness is better. The act is culmination of desire for the beloved and not for the offspring, consciously speaking.

    There is a persistent confusion in this debate between the telos of the act and the intention in the mind of the actors. They are different things.

  • vishmehr24 says:

    The point is how technical one gets while practicing NFP. The technical attitude is precisely what the opponents call “contraceptive mentality”.
    The very opposite of self-forgetfulness.

  • Mike T says:

    As I said on his blog, one problem I have with the position you defend is that I do not believe miracles are relevant when discussing basic phsyiology. What God might do under extraordinary intervention into mundane physiology is irrelevant. It is a fact that women of a certain age simply cannot as a natural course of events ever be open to life. Therefore sex with them is simply not open to life.

    The whole appeal to miracles is really just a theological Deus Ex Machina to save the Catholic Church from having to admit that sex is not open to life most of the time during fertile years and that it is never open to life at all after a certain age short of God putting an exception into the flow of creation.

  • Mike T says:

    Perhaps what God may do is not completely irrelevant, but relying on miracles to make a point that goes contrary to the observed norm for the overwhelming majority of human females borders on fideism.

  • Aquinas Dad says:

    There seems to be some confusion here as to what is meant by the concept of ‘the end, or goal, of the marital embrace is procreation’. Yes, this is true regardless of the odds of procreation at a given time. Discussions of how women are periodically infertile during their reproductive years and eventually no longer fertile have no bearing on the fact that the goal of intercourse is procreation because we are discussing overall telos, not particular actions. In short, This allows us to teleleogically understand the inherent nature of intercourse and thus derive the morals and ethics of such action.
    Now, the goal of *marriage* is *primarily* procreation, but it is not exclusively procreation; marriage is a sacrament that is focused on the spouses and their salvation, their participation in the Body of Christ, and in (yes) procreation.But as we are told in the catechism and by the Church fathers, various popes, etc., marriage is an ongoing liturgical action that sanctifies not just the couple but *all* people; that participating in matrimony (i.e., being married) fights sin within and outside of us simply by the act of being sacramentally married; that spouses in a sacramental marriage are supernaturally strengthened by Christ to be better spouses and better Christians; and that the love and support of spouse for spouse within marriage is an image of God’s love for man and Christ’s love for His Church.
    Thus we see that marriage in inherently good (obviously so, since it is a sacrament instituted by Christ) not just for the spouses but for all the world.
    Now, issues of infertility are often unknown until after matrimony has been joined. Regardless, even though marriage is meant to be creative just as God’s love for man and Christ’s love for the Church are creative, such a marriage can still be sacramental, an image of God’s love, a unique source of grace, a state that fights sin, etc. meaning that even between sterile persons marriage is an inherent good that brings grace to the spouses and the community as long as the marriage is lived sacramentally.
    I suspect the issue is an improper focus on the act of intercourse which, although critical to matrimony and an essential unitive element between man and wife, is not the focus of marriage – it is just part of the sacrament.
    Indeed, I suspect a key error of the modern world in regard to matrimony is to believe that the only difference between a couple pre-marriage and post-marriage is the ability to engage in the marital embrace. This is far from true. If you read the catechism, the fathers of the Church, and the unchanging teachings of the moral theologians the effects of marriage are to be limited to within marriage and intercourse is just a part of this; in the modern world we tend to grossly violate this and indulge in as many of the effects of marriage before marriage that we may, leaving only intercourse (if that).

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:

    Where have I appealed to a miracle?

    There are certain kinds of sexual behaviours which sometimes generate children – though more often than not, they don’t. Those behaviours are “natural” in a natural law sense. Those behaviours can be deliberately mutilated or modified in a way which blocks the generation of children. Those modified behaviours are not “natural” in a natural law sense.

    Where is the miracle?

  • Zippy says:

    vishmehr24:
    There is a persistent confusion in this debate between the telos of the act and the intention in the mind of the actors. They are different things.

    Exactly. Modern people are mostly just unable to come to grips with the fact that kinds of behaviour have an intrinsic telos, entirely independent of the intentions, desires, etc and even knowledge of the person who chooses the behaviour. That is because modern people are in the demonic grip of a tyranny of the subjective.

    Suppose a boy and a girl were raised by wolves and have no cause-and-effect understanding of the sexual act at all. Nevertheless, when they engage in ordinary sexual intercourse, the telos of the act is the generation of children. This is true whether or not any particular act happens to actually result in pregnancy. The great majority of them won’t.

    Modern people think in terms of atoms, the void, and the subjective intentions of disembodied spirits. The idea that objective reality has inherent moral qualities is something that, for whatever reason, seems beyond the grasp of many people.

  • Mike T says:

    There are certain kinds of sexual behaviours which sometimes generate children – though more often than not, they don’t.

    In a natural sense, a menopausal women can never have sex which generates children. Any children she has will be through intervention in her biology either from Western medicine or a miracle. Thus short of fertility treatment, saying she is capable of having sex that is open to life is clinging by a thread to the hope that God could sorta maybe give her a child in the hopes of ignoring the biological fact that she’s now barren.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    In a natural sense, a menopausal women can never have sex which generates children.

    You are missing the point. What is it that she is doing differently than she did ten years earlier? What deliberate modification has she made to the sexual behaviour she is choosing?

    None.

    She can certainly perform the kind of sex act which (sometimes) generates children. If she couldn’t, we wouldn’t even be able to talk about the situation sensibly as something distinct from contraception.

  • Mike T says:

    I’m not missing the point, I’m disagreeing with you on the extent to which biology informs the morality in this argument. I am asserting that assuming openness to life is an absolute requirement for morally licit intercourse, then her biological state does in fact inform the morality of the intercourse act during each progression of her life.

  • Mike T says:

    To be clear here, I am saying that post menopause intercourse becomes an act that can never naturally produce children, thus post menopause intercourse becomes an act as sterile as oral sex because the lack of any natural potential to produce children imposes a change on the act of intercourse between her and her partner.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    There is a reason why the words “open to life” are used rather than “definitely will result in pregnancy”. The former refers to a moral evaluation of a kind of behaviour – a kind of behaviour that most of the time actually does not result in pregnancy, even when a woman is at peak fertility.

    And you didn’t answer my question of exactly how she has altered her behaviour.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    thus post menopause intercourse becomes an act as sterile as oral sex

    That is morally irrelevant though, because post menopause intercourse is still intercourse: the kind of behaviour that sometimes produces children. Oral sex never produces children.

  • Mike T says:

    Intercourse only can produce children theoretically during a window of time in a woman’s life. After that, speaking of some intrinsic nature of intercourse without noting that intercourse does in fact take on a different set of characteristics outside of that window is weak in my opinion. In fact I would go so far as to say that intercourse as an act has a very minimalistic intrinsic nature because what intercourse is and can do is dependent upon the biological state of both participants.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    In fact I would go so far as to say that intercourse as an act has a very minimalistic intrinsic nature …

    Enemies of natural law morality certainly do need that to be the case.

  • Mike T says:

    It seems to me that you really wish to say that while intercourse is tied to biology in some ways, it isn’t in others because tying intercourse completely to biology would mean that the nature of intercourse changes as the body changes.

  • Zippy says:

    “Biology” isn’t the most appropriate term; its use reflects a scientismic bias.

    Intercourse as a kind of behaviour has an intrinsic connection to the generation of children – even though the great majority of times it doesn’t actually produce a child. Oral sex doesn’t. That they are fundamentally, categorically, deontologically different as species of behaviour couldn’t be more clear.

    There are all sorts of other problems with the physicalist approach. Just as one example, where does sex go from being a positive good within marriage to being categorically evil? Conception is naturally possible at all sorts of times, and “surprise babies” are too common to be all that surprising. How do we draw the line for when menopause is over? At what level of probability-of-pregnancy does otherwise positively good intercourse become absolutely prohibited?

    The whole physicalist approach to the question is a total mess … unless of course what we are trying desperately to do is reach the conclusion “so therefore, oral sex and masturbation and sodomy and bestiality and any other form of sex-just-for-pleasure is OK”.

    When a theory of sexual morality presents me with no way to know what sexual behaviours are licit at all unless it so happens that all sexual behaviours are licit, I take that as a reductio ad absurdam of that theory.

  • Mike T says:

    I think you are greatly overstating the difficulty in knowing the probability angle. A normal woman a few years past menopause has a probability approaching 0.0 of getting pregnant. If is true that puberty didn’t start until the late teens “way back when” then a wife of 14 who won’t hit puberty until she’s at least 16 cannot be said to be open to life either.

    In fact this is part of the social pathologist’s argument. As our knowledge of science increases, we increasingly have no excuse to not know when sex is “almost certain” to result in a child. Within your lifetime, we’ll probably reach the point where fertility tests are accurate down to 1-2 days of ovulation and as reusable as a digital thermometer (and cheap enough everyone will be expected to have one). Thus there will reach a point where the trads can rightly condemn, from this line of argument, sex that has no procreative element. They’ll respond to your argument about probability with a $20 bill and a ride to CVS to pick up a cheap fertility reader.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    A normal woman a few years past menopause has a probability approaching 0.0 of getting pregnant.

    That’s nonresponsive.

    Precisely when does a positively good act of intercourse become – exactly the same choice of behaviour become – intrinsically evil?

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    As our knowledge of science increases, we increasingly have no excuse to not know when sex is “almost certain” to result in a child.

    Bullshit.

    The suggestion that sex in the first world follows a completely different morality from sex in the third world, because SCIENCE, and because everyone has a moral obligation to buy fertility meters, is a really dumb argument that Slumlord has tried to pass off as respectable. When I was younger and less experienced I would have been surprised to see so many people take the bait.

  • Mike T says:

    Intercourse as a kind of behaviour has an intrinsic connection to the generation of children – even though the great majority of times it doesn’t actually produce a child.

    Right, but that intrinsic connection does not carry over into such conditions where a child obviously cannot be produced to say much of importance about those particular acts.

  • Mike T says:

    Precisely when does a positively good act of intercourse become – exactly the same choice of behaviour become – intrinsically evil?

    Arguably the moment we know it is no longer open to life or we can reasonably suspect it is not since intercourse loses its connection with creating children at that point.

    As to your other point, negligence itself is a form of guilty intent which is why we have the concept of felony murder. Sure you didn’t intend to murder the guy you robbed, but you stuck a gun in his face for his wallet, slipped and shot him. We won’t quibble about how far your intent to harm he really went since the intent to not do right was there and the act that resulted was death.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    but that intrinsic connection does not carry over

    Says who? What, precisely, about the metaphysical nature of the chosen behaviour, has changed? It can’t be the fact that it doesn’t actually cause the conception of a child, because that is already true of the great majority of acts of intercourse.

    So you are left arguing that all of those other infertile acts of intercourse (oops, two days after ovulation) are objectively evil behaviours too: that the only reason the acting subject isn’t culpable of mortal sin in every case of infertile sex is because he doesn’t know that it is infertile. But they are still evil actions, ‘disorders in relation to the truth about the good’. In order to avoid them he should abstain from sex entirely — otherwise he knows he is committing at least four or five objectively evil acts for every objectively good act.

    So the Slumlord/MikeT approach rules out all sex, at least until this mythical perfect fertility detector is invented in the future. Not sure how the human race will carry on to invent it though.

  • Mike T says:

    So you are left arguing that all of those other infertile acts of intercourse (oops, two days after ovulation) are objectively evil behaviours too: that the only reason the acting subject isn’t culpable of mortal sin in every case of infertile sex is because he doesn’t know that it is infertile.

    1. I don’t agree with slumlord that the primary purpose of sex in humans is procreative rather unitive.
    2. That said even by your argument intercourse where it is possible to know in advance that a child could never result short of a miracle or a bizarre fluke of biology should then still be considered an evil.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    The whole physicalist approach to the question is a total mess … unless of course what we are trying desperately to do is reach the conclusion “so therefore, oral sex and masturbation and sodomy and bestiality and any other form of sex-just-for-pleasure is OK”.

    When a theory of sexual morality presents me with no way to know what sexual behaviours are licit at all unless it so happens that all sexual behaviours are licit, I take that as a reductio ad absurdam of that theory.

    This is why remain a Bible-thumping creationist boob instead of becoming a Roman Catholic. The Bible is clear on what is permissible and what is not. Where one might argue it is not clear (because it is not specifically condemned) the implications surrounding those acts are easily deduced into terms that can be then easily transmitted to first- and third-worlders alike.

    Revelation still trumps natural law; whether of the magisterial or scientismic bent. It always will. This is an argument between people who don’t like what the Bible does (and does not) have to say about sex.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    …by your argument …

    Um, no.

  • Zippy says:

    Cane:
    Revelation still trumps natural law

    There is no need for Revelation to trump natural law because, properly understood, they are not in conflict.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    When I said

    This is why remain a Bible-thumping creationist boob instead of becoming a Roman Catholic.

    I did not mean that the sexual mores are what keep me out, but the basis and means upon which the RCC makes its decisions. If I had been raised within I’d still be there, and be content to keep my opinions to myself.

  • slumlord says:

    Bullshit

    Got your grumpy pants on Zippy?

    Refer to the quote by John Ford on my blog. It’s one thing when I say that there are problems with the natural law argument, it’s another when the Chief theologian of Pope’s birth Control Commission says so. Especially when the said theologian is an aggressive anti-Contraceptor.

    The fact is that the Church has a long tradition of seeing sex for any other reason apart from the procreation of children as morally suspect. The “unitive” purpose of sex was only considered licit since Castii connubi. SSPX would have been right at home prior to that point and not considered in any way freaks. In fact, they would have had the moral authority of tradition. Painting them as some sort of freaks is slurring the pre Castii Connubi Church as well.

    While I don’t agree with SSPX their logic is solid. If sex is meant to have a procreative dimension then sex should be done when we know it is capable of being procreative otherwise the act is privated. It’s one thing to operate out of biological ignorance its another to do so when fully informed. Morality is also dependent on circumstances. Mike T’s fertility meter proposition would have been fully endorsed by Augustine.

    What’s really disturbing in this thread (as it has developed) is your pitting the faith against science. The facts of the matter and logic show that the Church’s position on the matter is problematic. In the long run, the facts always win. Perhaps why the Church has been on the back foot since HV may not be due to the “rebellion” of the masses but the sensus fidelium trying to speak to the Church, speaking of an error in the document itself. (I know I’m talking to a brick wall when it comes to even raising this proposition.)

    The other thing I’ve noticed is that you have tendency for conflation errors and thus tend to reframe arguments within the limits of your understanding. Coitus is coitus and it is not oral sex. Nor is it anal sex, nor is it masturbation. Sexual perversion is not equivalent to infecund coitus. Recognising that coitus can be infecund does in no way legitimise sexual perversions. Take your time and think about it.

    @Mike T

    Sorry if I misled you but my contention is that coitus is primarily unitive and secondarily procreative. The telos of coitus is the placement of sperm in a position where they can fertilize an ovum. Note, that this does not mean that the ovum has to be there. Taking this approach makes NFP, coitus during menopause or pregnancy non problematic. It does also allow use of the pill. (Something I prescribe–with provisos)

  • Zippy says:

    slumlord:
    It’s one thing when I say that there are problems with the natural law argument, it’s another when the Chief theologian of Pope’s birth Control Commission says so.

    Wow, that sounds Really Important. It must mean that your open dissent from Humanae Vitae is respectable.

    Painting them as some sort of freaks is slurring the pre Castii Connubi Church as well.

    Where are the pre Castii Connubi magisterial (note that word: magisterial) condemnations of sex during pregnancy and menopause? I’ve looked for them, but I haven’t found any. Where oh where could they be?

    What’s really disturbing in this thread (as it has developed) is your pitting the faith against science.

    What science, exactly? You keep suggesting that there are these scientific facts that change the metaphysical nature of the marital act; but you never actually produce any scientific facts which change the nature of the marital act.

    I’m not even slightly anti-science. I am anti-bad-reasoning.

    Recognising that coitus can be infecund does in no way legitimise sexual perversions.

    Yes, exactly. Because unmutilated coitus, even when infecund, is still the kind of unmutilated behaviour which is essentially connected to the generation of children; even though, by nature, it more often than not does not actually result in pregnancy.

    I’m pretty sure that you are incapable of looking at this objectively because of your own publicly disclosed personal investment in the issue.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    There is no need for Revelation to trump natural law because, properly understood, they are not in conflict.

    My trump comment was meant within the confines of the human experience; not God’s omniscient plan. I made bold that part which has never been achieved in the entirety of human history (Our Lord withstanding), and never will be…much to Slumlord’s discouragement.

    I’m not saying that one is actually greater than (or even separate from) the other, but that the revelation of law natural and spiritual (i.e., bits of His omniscient plan He deemed it good and necessary for us to know) are what we can surely go by–forever…until He tells us otherwise. This is where the magisterium comes in and proclaims their teachings as revelation.

    Unfortunately their revelations too often contradict rather than deepen previous revelations, and when they are confronted about it they start spinning. The best you can hope for is “You’ve got us all wrong.” In more robust eras the response was more. “You’re going to Hell…now.”

    I have really tried to see it another way, but so far I’ve had no success.

  • Zippy says:

    Cane:
    I made bold that part which has never been achieved in the entirety of human history

    That depends on what you take it to mean. I think someone can properly understand all sorts of particular things – that it is wrong to commit sodomy, for example. I’m pretty wary of formulations that suggest “we can’t understand everything, therefore we understand nothing”. (Not accusing you of that, just jerking a favorite knee).

    Unfortunately their revelations too often contradict rather than deepen previous revelations …

    I’ve heard that a lot. But I’ve never found it to actually be the case, and I’ve looked quite a lot. I have seen all sorts of epistemic and other errors along the way though: interpretation and understanding are a problem for all denominations, and (some) Catholics are as wrong to think that the magisterium sufficiently dispels that problem as (some) protestants are to think that the text of the bible sufficiently dispels it.

    Also, it is Catholic doctrine that revelation ended with the Apostles, and that the Bible is inerrant – properly understood, hah! (Natural law, as we are discussing in this post, is not revelation; though it is consistent with revelation).

    I have really tried to see it another way, but so far I’ve had no success.

    Christianity isn’t about theologizing anyway. It is about Christ. The kid with Downs Syndrome is mostly better off than we egghead types.

  • slumlord says:

    I’m pretty sure that you are incapable of looking at this objectively because of your own publicly disclosed personal investment in the issue.

    That’s a pretty low shot. But typical.

  • Zippy says:

    slumlord:
    Hey, I’m sorry if you have a problem with HV, personally. Which by the way you, not me, announced to the world. But you’ve been picking at it publicly for years, which is wildly inappropriate for a guy advertising himself as Catholic. Your arguments haven’t gotten any better in five years, and you have no business making them publicly. Public speech is a privilege, it isn’t morally neutral, and this is a subject on which you should STFU.

    I actually like a lot of your stuff. But this one is a stinker.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    That depends on what you take it to mean. I think someone can properly understand all sorts of particular things – that it is wrong to commit sodomy, for example. I’m pretty wary of formulations that suggest “we can’t understand everything, therefore we understand nothing”. (Not accusing you of that, just jerking a favorite knee).

    Understood, and yes, some things can be properly understood without revelation.

    Also, it is Catholic doctrine that revelation ended with the Apostles, and that the Bible is inerrant – properly understood, hah! (Natural law, as we are discussing in this post, is not revelation; though it is consistent with revelation).

    Also understood. The fact remains that to be a good RC, I must treat the magisterium’s official pronouncements on natural law or history with the same gravity that I would actual revelation; i.e., I must proclaim the Immaculate Conception (a man-made intersection of natural law and revealed history) the same way I proclaim the Virgin Birth.

    Today, I am free to be a Catholic (if I were) who does not subscribe to evolution, even though theistic evolution is the official position of the RC. What will the RCC say in 50 years? These things matter when under the threat of Hell, extended time in Purgatory, etc. If I’m still alive, I’ll still believe the fundamental error that causes the error of evolution is in putting faith in accumulated human knowledge (or dreams, etc. as pertains to the Immaculate Conception) over revealed history.

    The exuberant Catholic science fetishists will counter that in 50 years we’ll have definitively proved evolution with SCIENCE!, and that is why the magisterium changed its position; natural law and all that. But it will still be a history question, and so the scientism answer must be as wrong as if one answered the question of, “What is the sum of two plus two?”, with, “Time.”

    I think the evolution decision is purely political because the RCC fears another Galileo PR “disaster”. The reality is that almost all people almost all of the time still operate under the geocentric paradigm. It was still sunrise this morning for everybody but that aspy kid in the white coat.

    Just for the record: I do subscribe to the heliocentric model.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    I went pretty far afield there. Sorry ’bout that.

    The point is the same as your reason for you wanting Slumlord to STFU: These things are important, and not incidental or unrelated.

  • sunshinemary says:

    To be clear here, I am saying that post menopause intercourse becomes an act that can never naturally produce children, thus post menopause intercourse becomes an act as sterile as oral sex because the lack of any natural potential to produce children imposes a change on the act of intercourse between her and her partner.

    Tell that to Sarah and Abraham.

  • Ian says:

    If sex is meant to have a procreative dimension then sex should be done when we know it is capable of being procreative otherwise the act is privated.

    Eating is meant to have a nutritive dimension. Does it follow that eating must only be done when we know it is capable of being nutritive? If science develops to the point where we can all buy cheap ‘nutrition meters’, will we be obliged to buy these and then only eat when the nutrition meter tells us we need nourishment?

    I don’t agree with slumlord that the primary purpose of sex in humans is procreative rather unitive.

    I’m not sure it matters whether procreation is the purpose of sex in order for the natural law argument to go through. All that’s necessary is for it to be a purpose of sex.

    That said, any twelve-year old could tell you that the purpose of sex is babies. It’s the unitive purpose that’s a bit more subtle.

  • Zippy says:

    Ian:
    If science develops to the point where we can all buy cheap ‘nutrition meters’, will we be obliged to buy these and then only eat when the nutrition meter tells us we need nourishment?

    Not just when, but exactly what and when.

    Your comment also brings to mind an analogy of what is wrong with the abuse of NFP that is worth considering: perhaps the abuse of NFP is very much like gluttony.

  • Zippy says:

    Ian:
    I’m not sure it matters whether procreation is the purpose of sex in order for the natural law argument to go through. All that’s necessary is for it to be a purpose of sex.

    Exactly right: procreation is an essential purpose (telos), that is, something that is metaphysically the nature of sexual behaviour. So a sexual behaviour which deliberately qua behaviour thwarts that telos (e.g. chemically poisoning ovulation via the pill, condoms, sodomy, etc) is intrinsically immoral – that is, it is immoral to deliberately choose it as a behaviour at all, independent of one’s intentions, dispositions, attitudes, hopes, dreams, expectations, nice-personhood, and haaaaapiness.

    Cue a discussion about artificial sweeteners.

  • Mike T says:

    There is no need for Revelation to trump natural law because, properly understood, they are not in conflict.

    That is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that natural law is still inferior to Revelation with regard to reliability. Natural law often seems to fill the role that “constitutional law” fills in applying the US Constitution practically, though the Bible is in less need of natural law theory than the US Constitution is of “constitutional law.”

    One of the reasons I’m not impressed by the authority of natural law is the argument I’ve seen many times that Onan is an argument against coitus interruptus. It is rather obvious that God’s rage at Onan was not at the nature of the act, but rather the disobedience to a duty spelled out in revelation in the Torah to impregnate his brother’s wife. The Torah actually defined a positive duty to take your dead brother’s wife and give her an heir if she did not have one. But hey, we can all pretend that God was upset at the violation of the telos of intercourse rather than Onan thumbing his nose at a black letter of the Mosaic Law duty.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    One of the reasons I’m not impressed by the authority of natural law is the argument I’ve seen many times that Onan is an argument against coitus interruptus.

    That’s odd, because it doesn’t appear to be a natural law argument at all. It appears to be a difference of opinion over how to interpret particular passages of Scripture.

  • Mike T says:

    Tell that to Sarah and Abraham.

    As I said, appealing to miracles here is a form of Deus Ex Machina. What God might do in very isolated incidents is not expositive about what has decreed will be the normal state of affairs otherwise.

  • Mike T says:

    That’s odd, because it doesn’t appear to be a natural law argument at all. It appears to be a difference of opinion over how to interpret particular passages of Scripture.

    Perhaps. Maybe the other person was confused about natural law and was trying to throw something from scripture in there to back it up. Regardless, it’s pretty obvious that what enraged God was the defiance of a very basic duty that Onan had agreed to undertake.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    As I said, appealing to miracles here is a form of Deus Ex Machina. What God might do in very isolated incidents is not expositive about what has decreed will be the normal state of affairs otherwise.

    I agree with that – that is, I agree that appeals to very low probability outcomes cannot make an evil act into a good act. The fact that the victim might survive doesn’t justify shooting him in the head.

    But in order for the Mike T/slumlord deontology to render the act in question evil, it must be the case that every actually infertile sex act is objectively evil. So focusing on low-probability cases is just a distraction: under the false deontology of sex proposed by slumlord, sex with a pregnant wife is objectively evil, sex two days after ovulation is objectively evil, and even sex in the fertility window is almost always objectively evil because most sex acts do not result in pregnancy, even inside the fertility window.

    Of course slumlord doesn’t believe any of that. His purpose is to undermine the notion that procreation is the telos of sex, and he does that by fomenting this idea that if procreation is the telos of sex every actually-infertile sex act is objectively immoral.

    But that’s a steaming pile of stupid.

  • Mike T says:

    Of course slumlord doesn’t believe any of that. His purpose is to undermine the notion that procreation is the telos of sex

    If the telos of sex is procreation, then it is obviously not objectively evil to try to impregnate a woman who may or may not be infertile in the absence of a mechanism to obtain certain knowledge of if she is fertile and if so, when. That being said, since the telos cannot be achieved in either a menopausal or pregnant woman then obviously something should be amiss by your standards. As I also mentioned, the church also allowed for “marriages” to occur when a girl had not even hit puberty which is rather interesting as a point of argument (though in the RCC’s defense, the argument that medieval girls didn’t hit puberty until 16-18 due to poor nutrition might just be modern propaganda against teen marriages).

    But then as I’ve suggested the telos of sex in humans may not be primarily reproduction because there is a great disparity between normal human sexual desire and the ability to procreate. Our lack of a mating season where the telos of sex as reproduction can be reasonably achieved in a nearly 1:1 mapping of sex and reproduction hints at human exceptionalism in God’s plan.

    My theory… sex’s primary purpose is unitive because it is meant to help hold together marriage. There’s really not much of a better explanation of why sexual desire persists after menopause.

  • Zippy says:

    I’ll try to state it in slightly simpler if also slightly less accurate terms:

    Note that in the slumlord caricature of traditional morality probabilistic “appeal to a miracle” is necessary in order to make any sex act into a good act, because most sex acts don’t actually result in pregnancy.

    His purpose, again, is to divorce the morality of sexual behaviour from procreation because then the chemical ovulation prevention methods that he supports can be, hey presto, morally licit.

    Of course if procreation isn’t the telos of sex then all sorts of things he putatively doesn’t support are also morally licit: qua behaviour, sexual behaviour no longer must morally be the sort of unmutilated behaviour that sometimes results in children. He is under some delusion that once he opens the door to mutilating the sex act qua behaviour he will be able to keep a finger in the dike and prevent all of its other implications, because he is under the delusion that he will be able to argue against some of those on “unitive” grounds.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    …since the telos cannot be achieved…

    You keep using that word telos; but you clearly don’t know what it means.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    My theory… sex’s primary purpose is unitive because it is meant to help hold together marriage.

    That’s wrong, but even if it was right it doesn’t help your case. If procreation is intrinsic to sex at all, even in some sense subordinate to its unitive purpose, then mutilating the behaviour in an attempt to be unitive-but-not-procreative still destroys the integrity of the act.

  • Mike T says:

    Of course if procreation isn’t the telos of sex then all sorts of things he putatively doesn’t support are also morally licit

    I think you need to be a lot more specific before making that charge about precisely what would become moral that shouldn’t be.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    If I were advancing a reductio ad absurdam based on slumlord’s argument producing a moral license to (e.g.) commit sodomy then yes, I would have to show how slumlord’s argument actually leads to the legitimization of (e.g.) sodomy.

    But that isn’t my argument.

  • Mike T says:

    I could see sodomy as an issue, but not incest, beastiality, etc. because there are revealed commandments against such things as well as rational ways to get there outside of revelation.

  • slumlord says:

    Note that in the slumlord caricature of traditional morality probabilistic “appeal to a miracle” is necessary in order to make any sex act into a good act, because most sex acts don’t actually result in pregnancy.

    Not Slumlord, Humanae Vitae:

    This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

    The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called.

    I highlighted it for you, because comprehension seems to be an issue here.

    I can tell that you’re starting to lose the argument because of the slurs, bad language, frame shifting and mischaracterisations of your opponents.

  • Zippy says:

    slumlord:
    Not Slumlord, Humanae Vitae:

    It is most definitely slumlord, since all sorts of folks seem capable of understanding what HV is saying without reaching your conclusions.

    I can tell that you’re starting to lose the argument because of the slurs, bad language, frame shifting and mischaracterisations of your opponents.

    Hah! You are cute when you try to declare victory.

  • Thanks to Zippy and Mike T for the enlightening exchange.

    My 2 cents is that the real problem here is summarized in this comment by Mike T:

    If the telos of sex is procreation, then it is obviously not objectively evil to try to impregnate a woman who may or may not be infertile in the absence of a mechanism to obtain certain knowledge .

    The way I see it, knowledge or lack thereof is only an issue if we’re discussing the the morality or immorality of the motivations of the people involved; it is entirely irrelevant if our focus is on the intrinsic morality or immorality of the act itself.

  • Zippy says:

    James B. Oakes:
    The way I see it, knowledge or lack thereof is only an issue if we’re discussing the the morality or immorality of the motivations of the people involved; it is entirely irrelevant if our focus is on the intrinsic morality or immorality of the act itself.

    Yep. A great deal of confusion is sown, sometimes on purpose, under the tyranny of the subjective.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    @Zippy

    Yep. A great deal of confusion is sown, sometimes on purpose, under the tyranny of the subjective.

    The tyranny of faith, hope, and love. Yes, it sounds awful.

  • Zippy says:

    That’s the spirit, Cane: any behaviour can be excused as long as you claim to have faith, hope and love in your heart. Objective standards of behaviour are nonsense.

  • Cane Caldo says:

    I knew you’d feel me.

  • Mike T says:

    The way I see it, knowledge or lack thereof is only an issue if we’re discussing the the morality or immorality of the motivations of the people involved;

    I’ll concede Zippy the point about intrinsic evil of the act in light of his more recent post about adultery. That said, the point Zippy is evading is that ignorance ceases to be an excuse when you have a means to gain certain knowledge. He said there cannot be a morality for the third world and one for developed countries, and he’s right. The third world has the luxury of ignorance because they lack the technology and/or means to reasonably acquire from others the technology to gain certain knowledge.

  • Mike T says:

    Zippy, this link is an example of what I meant about Onan. The most obvious reason why God would be angry at Onan is that Onan was not required to marry his brother’s widow, but did so with the intent of using and harming her and harming his dead brother’s legacy. However, they would have us believe that what really enraged God was a bunch of semen being spilled on the ground, not the actual and intended harm that Onan committed against his brother and his widow when the harm was completely unnecessary in the Torah.

    Coitus interruptus is an interesting argument here because it is naturally open to life in a minimal sense because a normal man will leave some semen in a position to create new life. If a man cannot pull out prior to full ejaculation, then that raises an interesting question of whether it is moral for a woman to stand up immediately after sex so gravity will help reduce the volume of semen inside of her to lower the odds of her getting pregnant.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    That said, the point Zippy is evading is that ignorance ceases to be an excuse when you have a means to gain certain knowledge.

    I haven’t evaded it. I addressed it earlier in the thread. I’ll break it down again:

    Slumlord’s argument is that if[1] the/a telos of sex is procreation, it follows that all actually infertile sex acts are objectively immoral[2]. The only reason the acting subjects are not guilty of sin for every actually infertile sex act is because they don’t know which sex acts are actually infertile and which are not.

    But the moral imperative to avoid intrinsically evil actions is absolute. So absent the pink unicorn of a perfect fertility meter it is immoral to engage in sex at all. Otherwise the acting subject knows that he is repeatedly engaging in objectively evil behaviours.

    If you didn’t see it the first time through, that is a reductio ad absurdam of slumlord’s understanding of human actions and telos.

    [1] He sets up this if-then as a kind of reductio so he can conclude for his own purposes that the/a telos of sex is not procreation.

    [2] In reality it is only deliberately mutilated sex acts, not accidentally infertile ones, which are contrary to procreation-as-telos-of-sex.

  • slumlord says:

    Slumlord’s argument is that if[1] the/a telos of sex is procreation, it follows that all actually infertile sex acts are objectively immoral[2]. The only reason the acting subjects are not guilty of sin for every actually infertile sex act is because they don’t know which sex acts are actually infertile and which are not.

    That’s not my argument. Once again, you’re reframing my position. Go re read my posts.

  • Zippy says:

    Slumlord:
    Oh I definitely encourage people to read your posts — keeping in mind that the outcome you are deliberately working toward is “therefore Humanae Vitae was wrong, and the Pill is okey-dokey.”

  • rocinante says:

    It’s quite amusing that we’re supposed to find NFP and contraception fundamentally similar, but that there’s a total difference of character between birth-control-contraceptive sex and condom-contraceptive-sex. The contention can hardly be taken seriously as internet speculation, much less in real life.

  • Mike T says:

    Cue a discussion about artificial sweeteners.

    And coffee, tea, most soy products and a host of other things that either have no nutritional value or have anti-nutritional aspects that negate the nutritive aspects of them.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    And coffee, tea, most soy products and a host of other things that either have no nutritional value or have anti-nutritional aspects that negate the nutritive aspects of them.

    One thing they don’t do though is intrinsically inhibit the nutritive value of eating. I can tell this by the fact that the person who puts Splenda in his coffee doesn’t die of starvation.

  • Mike T says:

    They do in fact remove nutrients from the body and counter some of the nutritive value of other food you’ve eaten. Drink several cups of coffee in close proximity between cups and you’ll probably get a severely upset stomach that’ll purge most of what you’ve eaten.

  • Zippy says:

    Does French kissing block the procreative telos of sex?

  • Mike T says:

    Depends on whether you consider it a sex act or not.

  • Mike T says:

    I also don’t know of anyone who would admit to having ever had an orgasm from french kissing, so I don’t think it’s a good comparison.

  • Zippy says:

    Do it to your mother and then tell me that it isn’t.

  • Zippy says:

    Let me make the point more explicit: there are acts which block nutrition, and minor acts which, while not nutritive in themselves, do not block it. Bulimia vs Splenda.

    Contraception is sexual bulimia.

  • Mike T says:

    So how is coitus interruptus a form of contraception since by nature it cannot block conception and in fact leaves a small possibility of conception each time it is done?

  • Zippy says:

    Onanism is rather a lot like bulimia, when you think about it. The correspondence almost transcends mere analogy.

  • Mike T says:

    The key difference though is that “onanism” reduces the amount of semen that is inserted a woman to a trickle while bulimia is act of actually removing nutrition from the body after eating. A better comparison would be a woman who deliberately stands up immediately after sex with the intent of gravity helping to remove as much semen as possible.

    If we’re going to compare it to anything food related, it would be closer to anexoria than bulimia, but even that is debatable since anexoria intentionally destroys the body while “onanism” merely intentionally reduces the odds of pregnancy.

  • Zippy says:

    Part of the problem is that you are thinking of things probabilistically.

  • Ian says:

    I once was debating a fellow Christian on contraception and used the analogy between contraception and bulimia. His response to this was that there was nothing intrinsically wrong with bulimia.

    At that point I had to throw up my hands. Some people don’t want to see.

  • Mike T says:

    So because there is any human effort to reduce the probability of conception it is now an issue?

  • buckyinky says:

    Sorry in advance if I am effecting an evacuation of brain energy by this question, but I’m trying to follow this multi-layered conversation, and I’m not quite sure how many layers there are. With Mike T.’s question about a woman standing up after coitus I think he is asserting that in the context of Zippy’s argument, the woman’s action of standing up after coitus is intrinsically disordered because, whatever her intentions were, it reduced the probability, and possibly effectively blocked conception from occurring. Am I following correctly?

  • Mike T says:

    I wouldn’t say a woman has a duty to lay on her back or some other position immediately after sex. What I was saying is that a woman can intend to get up after sex to let gravity help remove semen from her body. In my opinion, that is closer to bulimia because you actively reduced the amount of nutrient/semen already in the body from the normal act rather than reducing it from the onset.

  • Zippy says:

    buckyinky:
    You’d have to ask Mike T. He appears to be making probability-of-actual-conception arguments, and trying to layer probabilities over my nature-of-the-behaviour view. I don’t think that works, but it seems to be one way of nudging the discussion back toward viewing sex acts under an actual-conception understanding of telos. I’ve already discussed multiple times why actual conception for each act isn’t a sensible way to view the telos of sex, so I’m not sure I have anything to add. I think probabilistic views are just another intellectual cul de sac in the same universe of errors as the one slumlord is peddling.

  • Mike T says:

    As I’ve pointed out, the rhythm method leaves an amount of semen sufficient to impregnate a woman in place and places no barrier to that semen achieving its purpose in her. The only barrier that could be said to be imposed would be the amount. It’s easier to impregnate a woman with a full ejaculation than what is left behind by the rhythm method.

    But then, it’s easier to impregnate a woman by running a train on her so YMMV.

  • Zippy says:

    Every contraceptive method has a “failure rate,” and sometimes the victim survives an attempted murder. But I don’t see what that has to do with objective species’ of behaviour.

  • slumlord says:

    I think probabilistic views are just another intellectual cul de sac in the same universe of errors as the one slumlord is peddling.

    The probabilistic argument is your argument not mine, you’re engaging in calumny and deliberately misrepresenting my position.

  • Zippy says:

    Slumlord:
    I didn’t say that you were peddling a probabilistic argument. I said that Mike T’s probabilistic arguments are in the same universe of errors as your arguments.

  • buckyinky says:

    Mike T:

    Am I overlooking something in your argument if I answer that it would be wrong for her to stand with the intent of reducing the probability of conception, but not wrong for her to stand with the intent of making her husband a sandwich (or going to work, or continuing on her doctoral thesis, or whatever…)?

  • Mike T says:

    Nope. It’s her intent that matters. If the house set on fire immediately after sex (cue jokes about their sex life) she would have no duty to just lay there while the house burned around her.

    Now if I understand Zippy, he’s saying my argument is probabilistic because I’m focusing on the fact that while the probability is reduced, the possibility is there for the semen naturally released. The act of not fully ejaculating in the woman’s vagina is to be regarded as the same thing as using a condom which is naturally intended to fully stop the transmission of semen. That is in contrast to how any reasonably informed male knows that the rhythm method by its very nature, in the normal course of performing it, releases semen in a position to cause a pregnancy. Thus is it seems to come down to the fact that he is taking an action to reduce the probability in that moment, he is now the same as someone who intended to fully end the possibility.

    Somehow this is different from the intent that a practioner of NFP forms over a period of time to choose to full ejaculate in the woman when odds are the sperm will die before she ovulates. Apparently, deliberately trying to time the death of sperm before it can meet up with a healthy ovum is not a desire to block conception.

  • Mike T says:

    BTW the main reason Protestants don’t take NFP seriously is that we tend to not believe Catholics when they say they practice NFP, have an active sex life and aren’t thinking “this is great…. it’s just like contraception only it won’t land me in Hell.” It’s that last part that makes us say “uh huh… yeah I’ll bet your heart is in the right place…”

  • buckyinky says:

    BTW, this conversation has helped me better understand why the Church has traditionally looked at Onanism and masturbation as synonymous, something that I wouldn’t have concluded on my own but had simply accepted that the Church knew better than I.

    Rather than integrating his sexual function with that of Tamar’s toward its natural end of conception, Onan was instead merely using her body as a means of friction.

  • buckyinky says:

    In other words, it wouldn’t have been wrong for Onan to use Tamar’s body as a means of friction if he also intended the natural end of the sexual act. To withdraw as he did reduced the act to masturbation.

  • Zippy says:

    And once again on the treadmill of the tyranny of the subjective.

  • buckyinky says:

    And once again on the treadmill of the tyranny of the subjective.

    It surprises me to hear you say it, and while I thought I was beginning to grasp it, I think now that I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, though I also suspect that you are correct.

  • Zippy says:

    buckyinky:
    I was responding to all of the intention-talk, mostly by Mike T. Intrinsically evil acts are behaviours chosen by the acting subject – evil apart from the intention for which the choice was made, in the words of Veritatis Splendour.

    Again this doesn’t make intentions moot to morality, by any means. It is as wrong to have evil ends as it is to choose evil means.

    However, “don’t get pregnant right now” is not an always-evil intention — one might achieve this goal by refraining from sex, for example, without sin. It is choosing an evil behaviour as a means – a mutilated sexual act, specifically a behaviour contrary to the telos of the sex act – which is always evil, that is, always involves a defect of the will.

    I think you are right that Onanism, masturbation, and other mutilated sex acts are basically the same genus of behaviour. I’ve written as much before.

  • buckyinky says:

    Thanks for the clarification. As you can see I was thrown for a loop for a bit. I am actually finding your explanations easy to grasp. It is only when I combine your explanations with trying to grasp Mike T and/or slumlord’s position(s) that I suspect I may be missing something important.

  • Zippy says:

    buckyinky:
    I am actually finding your explanations easy to grasp. It is only when I combine your explanations with trying to grasp Mike T and/or slumlord’s position(s) that I suspect I may be missing something important.

    Interesting meta-observation.

  • Mike T says:

    What Zippy calls the tyranny of the subjective is in my case the Protestant tendency to say that if a thing is regarded as objectively evil then trying to acquire the outcome of that thing by other means almost invariably leads to evil by intentions. To a typical Protestant, if all contraception is intrinsically evil because it blocks the natural purpose of intercourse, NFP is equally evil in intent because the average user’s intent is to time sperm death to right before ovulation. Zippy would probably argue against that, but then Protestants tend to be much more severe on intent than Catholics.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Protestant tendency to say that if a thing is regarded as objectively evil then trying to acquire the outcome of that thing by other means almost invariably leads to evil by intentions.

    That’s a terrifically dumb way to look at morality though. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with having the goal of making money. But it is wrong to build a crystal meth empire on the dissolved bodies of murdered drug rivals to accomplish that goal.

    People are far more often than not trying to achieve morally acceptable ultimate ends through immoral proximate means. But under one of Hell’s greatest inventions, the tyranny of the subjective, this becomes obscured and confused.

  • Mike T says:

    That was a bad way of putting it. I’ll use NFP and contraception again to try to make my point more clear this time. The RCC prohibits contraception unconditionally, but allows NFP. Most conservative Protestants would say that the real, fundamental goal of NFP is to time sperm death such that sperm will die before they can reach an ovum. To us, this intent to frustrate conception is merely being done by using the sperm’s natural life cycle against it, however it is intend to be a valid mechanism of blocking the sperm from reaching an ovum. You would probably call this tyranny of the subjective, whereas most conservative Protestants would call that legalism.

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    Most conservative Protestants would say that the real, fundamental goal of NFP is to time sperm death such that sperm will die before they can reach an ovum.

    If you have to invoke microbiology in your explanation you know that you are in the wrong frame.

    To us, this intent to frustrate conception is merely being done by using the sperm’s natural life cycle against it, however it is intend to be a valid mechanism of blocking the sperm from reaching an ovum.

    It isn’t an intent to frustrate conception though. No matter what the couple intends when they choose to act, if they engage in ordinary intercourse they either are or are not going to conceive a child as a result. They can’t will a conception in the act any more than they can will sterility — conception is entirely disconnected from what they will. They can hope for one or the other; but hoping is not willing.

    The couple has absolutely no capacity whatsoever to frustrate the fecundity of natural unmutilated intercourse in an act of the will.

    And morality resides in the will.

    So yes, the confusion in Protestantism about NFP is quite directly because they are in the thrall of the tyranny of subjectivism.

    Pope Benedict called it the ‘dictatorship of relativism’, because moral relativism is the inevitable result of disconnecting objective species of behaviour from subjective intentions and treating the latter as all that matters. I use a different term mainly because most people don’t realize that moral relativism can result in both kinds of error: not just errors which proclaim evil behaviours to be good, but also errors which proclaim good behaviours to be evil.

  • Ian says:

    Mike T,

    Would you call making a distinction between dieting and bulimia legalism?

  • Zippy says:

    I wrote:
    The couple has absolutely no capacity whatsoever to frustrate the fecundity of natural unmutilated intercourse in an act of the will.

    What is more, the fact that they engaged in natural unmutilated intercourse means that they cannot possibly[1] have willed to frustrate the fecundity of their sexual act.

    If they had willed to frustrate any natural fecundity present in the act, they would have chosen to behave differently. The will is what chooses behaviour: it is the interface between subjective interior reality and objective reality, loosely speaking — the place where “mind over matter” happens in the human experience. The behaviour chosen reveals what is in the will.

    What bothers some folks about NFP is that we frequently know that some ordinary acts of intercourse do happen to be less likely to be fertile than others — even to the point of near certainty. That would be a problem if it was always morally wrong without exception to intend not to conceive a child just now, independent of the means one chooses to not conceive a child just now. But it isn’t always morally wrong without exception to intend to not conceive a child just now.

    So then the question becomes whether it is morally wrong to engage in ordinary unmutilated intercourse just now when, if the couple were being completely oblivious to fertility, it definitely would not be morally wrong.

    The correct[2] answer, the Catholic answer, is that engaging in ordinary intercourse just now is not morally wrong in itself, and that an intention not to conceive just now might be morally wrong – if it rests on selfish motives – or it might not be morally wrong if, for example, another child right now would be a big medical risk or whatever — the infamous “serious reasons” which are necessary in order for NFP to be morally licit.

    [1] Unless, as I discussed before, there is a defect of knowledge – a defect of knowledge which can either be exculpatory or damning, because we are morally responsible for what we will. A man who thinks the glass contains a fatal poison can be guilty of attempted murder even though he was mistaken about the facts and failed in the attempt.

    [2] Hopefully even if we can’t get to agreement we can at least get to understanding.

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