The Quality Quest

[The following is a letter I wrote a while ago to the editor of Chicago’s NEW ART EXAMINER responding to an article by Betty Ann Brown.  Betty Ann Brown’s article is badly vitiated, if I may say so, by the sort of sloppy reasoning peculiar to postmodern political flimflam.  As might be expected from the low quality of Brown’s article, Brown’s only response was to engage in some perfunctory hand waving.]

Betty Ann Brown (“A community self-portrait,” NAE, December, 1990) would have us retire the word “quality” because she believes that the concept the word expresses has built into it standards which improperly and objectionably tend to exclude women and artists of color from museums, galleries and exhibitions.  (I will put “quality” in double quotes when I am talking about the word, and in single quotes when I am talking about the concept.)  That is to say, the concept is constructed along class/race/gender lines.  She seems to identify ‘quality’ with the concept of formalistic quality, i.e., a work’s excellence or lack of excellence considered as hinging on such factors as line quality, touch, handling, composition, spatial balance, relations between forms, relations between colors, and so on.  ‘Quality’ interpreted as ‘formalistic quality’ is the concept, she asserts, whose use excludes women and artists of color.  Instead of the word “quality,” she would have us use “worthy.”  According to Brown, a work is worthy when its content “…authentically [accurately?] reflects the artist’s social/historical/political moment.”  She prefers work that grates on her, reflects experiences beyond her own, and concerns issues of race, gender, and class.

I very much doubt whether Brown is really rejecting the concept of quality at all.  If she uses “worthy” in such a way that “This work is good or excellent” follows from “This work is worthy” (surely the word means nothing if this does not follow), then the concept of quality has not been done away with.  For if a work is high in quality, it is good or excellent, and if it is good or excellent, it is high in quality.  Thus I suspect Brown is really just advancing a different theory of what artistic quality (worth, merit, excellence, being good) consists in.  She thinks that a work’s quality hinges not on its formalistic values, but on its authentically reflecting an artists’s social/historical/political moment.

However, Brown’s theory of quality (or worth, merit, excellence, or whatever) is obviously false.  Consider all the dull, heavy-handed, poorly observed works stemming from the nineteenth century that use vicious stereotypes to depict African Americans, male and female.  Surely these works reflect their artists’ social/historical/political moment in the most authentic way possible.  They even grate on me, reflect on experiences beyond my own, and concern the issues of race, gender, and class that Brown holds so dear.  Brown is not about to value them as worthy.  If her theory of quality is true, however, there is no way one could escape the conclusion that they are worthy, their shoddiness and viciousness notwithstanding.  Brown could try to avoid this unappetizing conclusion by claiming that the content of  work must reflect the correct politics if it is to count as excellent, but such a move would be clearly ad hoc, if not laughable.  The only reason to make such a move would be to save Brown’s theory.

In the absence of any plausible alternative, one is left with the formalistic theories of quality.  Do these theories in fact have built into them standards that improperly and objectionably tend to exclude women and artists of color?  Consider the following theory, and see if it has any such standards built in.  I submit that the concept I describe below is the one operative in most critical discourse.

A work of art is a symbol that both expresses and sometimes denotes (to use Nelson Goodman’s terms) a content or subject matter.  The work’s excellence or lack of excellence is a function of both its formalistic values and what it expresses.  If what the work expresses is of low value, the work itself is of lesser value, even if (and in fact partly because) its formalistic values express its content perfectly.  Suppose, for example, that Jones, a critic, becomes convinced that Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings express the same types of feelings expressed by New Age music.  Since Jones holds those feelings in low esteem, she values the paintings less than they are usually valued.  Similarly, Smith, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, holds in low esteem what Anne Ryan’s collages express, namely, a sense of intimacy and pleasure (usually regarded as feminine) in materials and fabrics.  The fact that the formalistic values of the collages expresses those things perfectly hardly commends them to him.  He therefore places the works in storage.

Clearly, Smith’s application of the concept ‘quality’ has been guided by his gender attitudes.  He regards feminine stuff as minor and of lesser value.  I take it this is the sort of case Brown has in mind when she claims that ‘quality’ has built into it standards that improperly and objectionably tend to exclude women.  In what follows, I argue that the claim is nonetheless false.  The argument focuses on the expressive content of an artwork.

There are two possibilities concerning the value of what an artwork expresses.  1) Conventional, relativistic, folk wisdom is correct.  Conventional folk wisdom would like to relativize value the way Einstein relativizes motion.  In Einstein’s theory, of course, the speed of an object is relative to a frame of reference.  In one frame of reference, the speed is 60 mph, and in another it is 1 mph.  Folk wisdom treats Smith and Jones as one-person frames of reference.  In the Smith frame of reference, what Ryan’s work expresses has a low value, while in the Jones frame of reference, say, it has a high value.  Just as there is no absolute measure of speed, but only the speed in this frame of reference and the speed in that one, there is no absolute measure of value for what Ryan’s work expresses.  There is only its value for Smith, and its value for Jones.  2)  What an artwork expresses has a value that is not relative to particular individuals, and Smith and Jones can measure that value accurately or inaccurately, correctly or incorrectly.

Assume that 1) is right.  Suppose also that Jones is a feminist who wants to believe that Smith’s exclusion of Ryan (and the exclusion of other women artists on similar grounds) is improper and objectionable.  Jones, however, cannot cogently criticize or object to Smith’s exclusion of Ryan’s work.  For surely the following thesis is true:

A) If an artwork is of low value (is not good, excellent, worthy, etc.), excluding it (putting it into storage in a museum, not exhibiting it in a show, not buying it, and so on) is not objectionable or improper.

This is, I suspect, an intuition everyone shares.  Even Brown’s view commits her to it, since if a work is worthy, it is surely not low in value.  Now in the Smith frame of reference, Ryan’s collages are low in value.  It follows from A), then, that Smith’s putting her work into storage is not improper or objectionable.  The mere fact that in the Jones frame of reference the collages have a high value does not make the exclusion objectionable.  For disputing the exclusion on those grounds would be like disputing a measure of speed made in another frame of reference on the grounds that it does not match the measure one has made in his own frame of reference.

So if the relativism outlined in 1) is correct, Smith’s exclusion of Ryan’s work is not objectionable.  I assume, by the way, that Brown objects to ‘quality’ because it allegedly leads to cases of objectionable exclusion.

Assume now that 2) is right.  Smith has either correctly or incorrectly valued the expressive content of Ryan’s work.  If he has valued that content correctly, then Ryan’s work is of lesser quality and therefore of lesser value.  It follows from A), then, that Smith’s exclusion of Ryan’s work is not objectionable or improper.  Smith’s exclusion has not resulted from biases and prejudices that have prevented him from valuing the work correctly.  So the concept ‘quality’ is not open to criticism in this case because it has not led to an improper or objectionable exclusion.

Suppose now that Smith has valued the expressive content of Ryan’s work incorrectly (presumably because of gender biases).  He was wrong to put it in storage.  (This is, incidentally, the view I hold, and I suspect Brown would prefer to hold it as well.)  In this case, however, the fault does not lie with the concept ‘quality,’ but with a bad and misguided application of that concept to a particular case.  The application of ‘quality’ went afoul because prejudice prevented Smith from valuing correctly the expressive content of Ryan’s work.  In cases like these, then, the concept ‘quality does not have built into it standards that improperly and objectionably exclude women; rather, it is particular application of the concept that can objectionably exclude women (not all women, by the way) when the expressive content of a work gets wrongly valued.

In each case, then, either the concept ‘quality’ is not the culprit, or the exclusion in question is not objectionable.  Contrary to Brown, it turns out that ‘quality’ does not have built into it (through some kind of white male conspiracy) standards which improperly and objectionably exclude women.  If women are underrepresented in museums relative to their population, the fault lies not with ‘quality,’ but with other factors, including bad applications of the concept (assuming that relativism is false and that female concerns are incorrectly assigned a low value — if relativism is true and female concerns are correctly given a low value, cases of the sort discussed above, which I take to be bad applications of the concept, are in fact not objectionable), prejudice, and social discouragement.  The same analysis applies mutatis mutandis to artists of color.

Cliff Engle Wirt                                                                                                                                        Chicago, IL

Today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM takes the form of James Dean and Sal Mineo.

James_Dean_SalMineo_4

‘Look at me the way I look at Natalie Wood,’ James Dean reportedly told Sal Mineo during the filming of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.  Mineo, having a crush on Dean, needed very little prompting to heed this instruction.  Homoerotic expression is, I dare say, something that in the past has been given an incorrect valuation.


Berkeley’s Direct Tactile Realism In His NEW VISION

Oddly enough for those of us used to thinking of Berkeley as a thoroughgoing idealist, Berkeley maintains in his AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NEW THEORY OF VISION a direct realism regarding tactile perception.  Whereas the objects of vision — for example, the visible moon — do not exist outside the mind, the objects of touch — what is touched, tangible physical objects — do exist outside the mind in external space.  As George Pitcher puts it, speaking of what Berkeley is claiming in black and white in the NEW THEORY OF VISION:

What we feel are the tangible objects — i.e., the objects that are spread around us at various points in physical space.  What we see are objects that exist only in the mind.

George Pitcher, BERKELEY: THE ARGUMENTS OF THE PHILOSOPHERS  (Routledge, London and New York), p. 28. Henceforth BERKELEY

Tangible objects, in the system of the Essay, exist around us in real physical space.

George Pitcher, BERKELEY, p. 43.

And from the Master himself (passage 1):

Passage 1

For all visible things are equally in the Mind, and take up no part of the external Space.  And consequently are equidistant [in the next sentence Berkeley says ‘Or rather to speak truly…are at no Distance, neither near nor far…] from any tangible thing, which exists without the Mind.

George Berkeley, AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NEW THEORY OF VISION, paragraphs CXI and CXII, in The GEORGE BERKELEY COLLECTION: 5 CLASSIC WORKS, Amazon Print-On-Demand Edition, no pagination.  Henceforth A NEW THEORY OF VISION. 

Perceiving/sensing/understanding (for now I will take these terms to be more or less equivalent, as I think they are for Berkeley) for Berkeley is always a two-place relation between a Mind that perceives something and the thing that is perceived — the object of perception.  Berkeley calls the direct, that is to say, the immediate object of sensing/perceiving/understanding an ‘idea’:

Passage 2a

… I take the word idea for any immediate object of sense, or understanding — in which large signification it is commonly used by the moderns.

George Berkeley, AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NEW THEORY OF VISION, in BERKELEY Essay, Principles, Dialogues With Selections From Other Writings (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York) 1929) p. 36.  Henceforth A NEW THEORY OF VISION when referring to that Essay in this volume.

So henceforth I will be treating the terms ‘idea’ and ‘object (of touch, of vision, of hearing, etc.)’ as equivalent, except when the context makes it obvious that ‘idea’ is being used in another way.

Visible things, visual ideas — the objects of vision — for example, the Visibile Moon … these things have visible properties. The Visibile Moon, for example, has a round shape, is flat, luminous, and is of a kind of non-saturated yellow color. That this should be so ought not perhaps be too surprising. Things have properties, right? Shouldn’t visible things have visible properties? And should their bearing properties be gainsaid by the fact that these things exist only in the mind? Afterimages, after all, are things that exist only in the mind. I can see a wine red or viridian green or burnt sienna afterimage, right?

Vision is, I have said, assuming for the moment the guise of Bishop Berkeley, a two-place relation between the Mind and an object that exists only in the mind, a visual Idea. In the case of touch, this relation is a two-place relation between the Mind and a hard or soft or rough or smooth or sharp or rounded…physical object existing in external space. [By ‘physical object’, I mean ‘object that obeys the laws of physics,’ and I take it this is what Berkeley is also thinking of when he talks about things existing in ‘external space’.] [Shortly, I will be talking about what these relations might be. ]

As regards vision, I do perceive an extra-mental object existing in external space — but only indirectly, or mediately, in a three-place relation. This relation comprises my Mind (me), the Visibile Idea (e.g., the Visibile Moon) to which my Mind is related directly, and the external object (the physical, tangible Moon) for which the Visibile Moon serves as a sign.  So with regard to vision, Berkeley maintains in the NEW VISION a representational theory of perception.  He is an indirect realist with regard to vision:  we see the physical object in external space just indirectly, in a way mediated by the mental object of color and shape that we do see directly.

But with regard to touch, Berkeley is a direct realist.  We perceive the physical object directly through touch.  We don’t perceive it by ‘touching’ or ‘feeling’ a mental object that represents the physical tangible object.  We are in contact with the object itself.  Put another way, our perception reaches all the way to the felt object.  In the case of touch, the perception is a two-place, not a three-place relation.

This direct realism in the case of touch comes as a bit of a surprise to those of us who think of Berkeley as a thoroughgoing idealist who thinks that everything is mental.  And in fact Berkeley apparently claimed in later writings that he theorized touch this way only to prevent his readers from freaking out from far too much counterintuitive idealism (Pitcher, BERKELEY, p. 28) which would only have served to distract his readers from what he wanted to focus on, namely, vision. In his own thoughts, ostensibly kept to himself at the time of A NEW THEORY OF VISION, he regarded the objects of touch as in fact mental.

But we have just heard Bishop Berkeley say “…I take the word idea for any immediate object of sense, or understanding….” Since it is the physical thing itself — the slab of marble top, a section of bark, a roll of silk — that is felt, Berkeley must count the marble, the bark, the silk as ideas. So just as the idea ‘Visibile Moon’ has the visual properties ‘luminous’ and ’round’, the ideas of tactile perception have the tactile properties ‘smooth’, ‘hard’, ‘supple’, ‘rough’. Tactile ideas have this in common with visual ideas: both are objects that have properties which represent (in the case of the visual ideas) or present (in the case of the tactile ideas) extra-mental objects.

[Regard tactile ideas as like visible ideas in this way (I see a Visibile Moon that is the color of cheese if the object of my visual perception is the color of green cheese; I feel smooth, hard. cold marble if the object of my tactile perception is smooth, hard, cold, and marble) and the tactile ideas slip out of the mind, so to speak. ]

But wait a second. “Ideas” are surely mental, existing “in” the mind. How can an ‘existing-in-the-mind entity be rough, hard, plable, smooth and so on? It cannot. The rough/hard/smooth and so n objects are objects of the mind, but exist outside the mind. So not all ideas are ‘in the mind’. “Idea” is fundamentally ambiguous between purely mental and extra-mental objects.

It is, of course, a bit of a jolt to regard an idea as smooth, rough, hard, and so on. Physical things have these properties, not mental things. So “idea” would have to be ambiguous between mental things and physical things. But there is this one point of contact….relativity to perceiver…but as physical body not as some idealized poinut in the middle of the skull…the spectorial view….

But regardless of what the historical George Berkeley thought or did not think inwardly as he wrote that tract, treating touch in a direct realist fashion as involving direct perceptual contact with the touched/felt physical object is strongly motivated by two things.  First, Berkeley’s treatment of the objects of vision as being both mental and possessing visual properties leads to absurdities if applied to the objects of touch.  The absurdity disappears once one regards the objects of touch as being extra-mental, existing outside the mind.  Second, reflecting on the nature of vision and the nature of touch motivates (without forcing!) a direct realist theory of touch and an indirect realist theory of vision. 

I’ve been speaking of the objects of vision and the objects of touch, whether these be the same [be sure to cash this out], or different, as Berkeley thinks. The object of vision is what is seen; the object of touch is what is touched. Berkeley calls the former the visual Idea, and the latter … well, to anticipate, I think one is likely to feel some discomfort in calling what is touched, the physical object, an ‘Idea’, given that Ideas are normally regarded as mental, as Berkeley regards the (direct) objects of vision. Be that as it may, objects have properties.

So it is not terribly surprising to see (as I have discussed in a previous post, The Truth Of Bishop Berkeley (Part 0)) Berkeley treating the visible object as having visual properties (what other kind would it have? [Yes, this is a trick question]).  The Visibile Moon, for example, is round, flat, luminous, and (although Berkeley never assigns it a specific color) of a certain pale cheese-like yellow. If I may be permitted to go at least a little distance out on a limb, I ascribe to Berkeley the idea that for a mind to sense ‘moon yellow’ and the other sensed properties of the Visibile Moon is simply for that object to have those properties and to exist in the mind.

But we run immediately into trouble if we try to apply that idea to the objects of touch. It seems rather strange to say that for a mind to sense rough, smooth, hard, soft and so on is for a rough (or smooth, hard, soft) object to exist in the mind. But surely no mental things can be rough etc.  Only physical objects — for example, the bark of a tree, the cool smoothness of marble — can have these properties.  Thus conceptualizing Ideas, the objects before the Mind, as having properties puts Berkeley straightway on the road to regarding physical objects existing in extra-mental space as the objects of touch.

But what happens, then, to the idea that to sense an object with its properties directly is for that object with its properties to exist in the mind? The object of touch with its roughness etc. exists outside, not inside the mind. How, then, can it be an Idea? An Idea, surely, is something that exists in the mind. And an Idea, remember, is what is sensed, what is perceived — the object of touch or of vision. If one ever suffered from the delusion that the Berkeleyan Idea was not a problematic concept, they should be stripped of that delusion now. [ It would seem that Berkeley would either have to jettison either the notion that an Idea is a mental object (with properties) in the mind, or that it is an object, mental or not, before the mind. the notion we have ascribed to him that ]

[What is this relation? At least in the case of vision, Berkeley seems to conceive of this relation in quasi-spatial terms — and he is not, of course, the only one to do so.  For him, to sense wine red, for example, is for wine red (deep crimson red) to be “in” (yes, do note the scare quotes) the mind. The origin of this spatial metaphor doubtlessly lies in a causal story of perception. Light bounces off the object (say, a translucent wine-red paper weight), strikes the retina, triggering other events that end up quite literally in the brain…and from there (though no story about the pituitary gland) ideas somehow slip into the mind. That Bishop Berkeley easily flips from talking about brains and physical processes to talking about minds and the ideas contained therein. As shown here, he starts out talking about retinas and brains, then suddenly corrects himself midstream and starts talking about minds. These easy flips make it more likely he will apply in a metaphorical or derived way to minds and mental objects spatial terms such as ‘in’ whose use is quite literal when applied to brains inside skulls. ]

[For now, I will leave the terms ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ as primitives, and assume that I and my readers understand them in roughly the way Bishop Berkeley understood them. We are all, after all, still swimming the still-powerful current of Cartesian dualism.]

[What is this relation? At least in the case of vision, Berkeley seems to conceive of this relation in quasi-spatial terms — and he is not, of course, the only one to do so.  For him, to sense wine red, for example, is for wine red (deep crimson red) to be “in” (yes, do note the scare quotes) the mind. The origin of this spatial metaphor doubtlessly lies in a causal story of perception. Light bounces off the object (say, a translucent wine-red paper weight), strikes the retina, triggering other events that end up quite literally in the brain…and from there (though no story about the pituitary gland) ideas somehow slip into the mind. That Bishop Berkeley easily flips from talking about brains and physical processes to talking about minds and the ideas contained therein. As shown here, he starts out talking about retinas and brains, then suddenly corrects himself midstream and starts talking about minds. These easy flips make it more likely he will apply in a metaphorical or derived way to minds and mental objects spatial terms such as ‘in’ whose use is quite literal when applied to brains inside skulls. ]

[For now, I will leave the terms ‘mind’ and ‘mental’ as primitives, and assume that I and my readers understand them in roughly the way Bishop Berkeley understood them. We are all, after all, still swimming the still-powerful current of Cartesian dualism.]

[But why doesn’t regarding the objects of vision likewise put one right on the road to viewing the objects of vision as extra-mental entities? Can a mental object be yellow, luminous, round, and flat?]

Whether such a reading is historically accurate or not, I am tempted to read the following passage (passage 2) as motivated by a discomforting sense on the part of Berkeley that there is something problematic about the notion of an Idea. What better way to eliminate the discomfort than to say the opposite? ‘There is nothing problematic about the notion of tangible ideas’, my psycho-analyzed version of Berkeley would say. ‘I am just using the phrase as everyone else among us moderns uses it’.

Passage 2

Note that, when I speak of tangible ideas, I take the word idea for any immediate object of sense, or understanding — in which large signification it is commonly used by the moderns.

George Berkeley, AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NEW THEORY OF VISION, in BERKELEY Essay, Principles, Dialogues With Selections From Other Writings (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York) 1929) p. 36.  Henceforth A NEW THEORY OF VISION when referring to that Essay in this volume.

But what is directly, i.e., immediately, i.e., im, that is to say, not mediately touched is the extra-mental physical object itself.  Given the passage just quoted, that would mean the physical object is an Idea — a tactile Idea — , at least when it is being touched.  Visual Ideas may be mental, but it would seem that tactile Ideas are not.  But surely, in the large signification the word ‘Idea’ is used by the moderns, as well as by all of us captive to what is still a Cartesian common sense, an Idea is something mental, something in the Mind.  Passages 1) and 2) are clearly in tension with one another.

One way to reconcile 1) and 2) is to reinterpret the concept of an Idea by applying to it a distinction between the content of intentional states such as seeing and touching and the object of these states.

A Berkeleyan Idea, I propose, is ambiguous between content and object.  In the case of feeling/touching [I shall use ‘feeling’ interchangeably with ‘touching’], the Idea is a mental content without properties but describable by seeking answers to the question ‘how’, or adverbially.   The intentional state with this content has a physical thing with properties as its object.  In the case of vision, the Idea is an “inner” mental object [I will take ‘inner’, ‘mental’, and ‘mind’ as primitives and pretend, at least for now, that there is nothing problematic about these terms] with properties.

Let me explain this distinction by making an analogy to the (commonly made in this context)  distinction between kicking a tree (an action directed towards an object) and kicking a kick (an action that may or may not be directed towards an object).  Let’s say that Dr. Johnson kicks a tree (while exclaiming ‘I refute Berkeley thus!’)  This event can be described in two ways:  ‘Dr Johnson kicked a tree’, and ‘Dr. Johnson kicked a kick’.  The kick, is of course, identical with Dr. Johnson’s action of kicking the tree and is, in spite of the direct-object grammatical role played in the sentence by the word ‘kick’, not the object of the kick.

Dr. Johnson is both kicking a kick and kicking a tree.

Now suppose that  Bruce Lee is demonstrating a particular martial art move which includes a kicking action.  The kick is directed towards the air, towards anything that might [the futural dimension] meet its thrust, in other words, to nothing in particular.  It is not directed towards any actual existing object.  Bruce Lee is kicking a kick, but the kick is not directed towards an object.

Continuing with this analogy, let’s say that the tactile Idea is like kicking a kick that may or may not have an object.  Suppose I am resting my elbow on a marble countertop.  I feel the coolness of the marble.  At the same time, I feel the equal and opposite force of the cool, smooth, hard marble as it meets my weight at my elbow while I lean into it. In feeling this equal and opposite force impinging upon my body, I  feel the marble’s hardness and resistance to my body.  Likewise, I feel the pressure on my somewhat rubbery skin as both the marble and the bone of my elbow press into it.   Oh no!  I have placed too much pressure on the countertop!  A piece of it has broken off and smashed into my toe! I feel the marble’s force, and my toe throbs painfully with such a salience that it becomes difficult to attend to anything else.

In the course of all this, I have enjoyed/suffered the following:  a coolness feeling, a force feeling, a hardness feeling, a resistance feeling, a pressure feeling, a pain feeling.  Some of these, although named by different words, may be identical events (e.g., hardness feeling, resistance feeling, force feeling).  These start, continue for a while, then end (I stop leaning on the counter; my toe eventually stops throbbing painfully).  They are, in short, events that have the same structure as the event kicking a kick.  I was feeling a hardness feeling, feeling a resistance feeling, feeling a coolness feeling, feeling an equal-and-opposite-reaction-comprising-a-force feeling, feeling a toe-throbbing-painfully feeling.

These ‘feeling a feeling’s I will call the content of the intentional state of feeling the marble countertop. In each case, the feeling is not the object of the various tactile events, but is identical with those events.  The object of  the events is the marble countertop itself and its various properties and capacities:  its hardness, its resistance to forces impinging upon it, its presenting those forces with equal and opposite reactions, its temperature. Dr. Johnson kicks a tree; I feel a marble countertop.

It is fairly safe to place the marble countertop in extra-mental space.  With just a little bit of work, I think, we can plausibly place the feeling inside the mind as a mental event.  I say ‘plausibly’ for now because later I hope to chip away a bit at any such clean separation of ‘mental’ from physical as would seem naturally intuitive to Berkeley and to anyone still caught up in the general thralldom of what is still common-sense Cartesian dualism.

Suppose I am now hallucinating the marble countertop.  I seem to be leaning my elbow on the countertop.  But there is in fact no marble countertop for me to lean on.  Instead, there are just the following:  a feeling a hardness feeling, a feeling a resistance feeling, a feeling a coolness feeling, a feeling an equal-and-opposite-reaction-comprising-a-force feeling, a feeling a toe-throbbing-painfully feeling.  These are, plausibly, events taking place inside me and only inside me.  They are taking place inside no one else.  If I am a Mind, a Spirit, then these events are taking place inside my mind.  They are mental events.

They are tactile Ideas.  When there is a marble countertop that I am feeling, they are tactile Ideas with both an object and a content — Dr. Johnson kicking a tree (object) and kicking a kick (content).  When I am hallucinating and there is no marble countertop that I am feeling, they are tactile Ideas with a content but no object.  They are Bruce Lee kicking a kick without kicking anything. Tactile Ideas are mental contents identical with events that may or may not have an object.

Regarding them as mental events, we need not think of them as objects with properties standing in front of the felt object and hiding it from our direct tactile view. Instead, they are best described by phrases that answer the question ‘how?’ and sometimes adverbially.  How am I feeling?  I am feeling impinged upon by a force that is equal and opposite to the force I am exerting on the countertop.  I am feeling impinged upon by the temperature of the marble.  I am feeling throbbingly/painfully in that area of space occupied by my toe.  Answers to the how question and (sometimes) adverbs better describe these events than do properties, states and capacities of objects (wine-red, translucent, cubical).

Thank goodness, because, as suggested above, if the tactile Idea had tactile properties such as hardness etc. by analogy with visual Ideas having visual properties such as luminosity and a particular shade of bright-moon-cheese-yellow, we would be in very strange territory indeed.  We would be faced with slabs of mental marble floating around (would something that has the property of heaviness float? — Maybe mental space is gravitation-free) in my mind possessing the properties of smoothness, coolness, and hardness, and capable of  exerting any force, whether gravitational or equal-and-opposite-reactional, upon any physical object, including upon that physical object that I am.  Were these allegedly non-physical objects actually capable of exerting/undergoing such forces, they would in fact be physical, that is to say, describable by the laws of physics. [By ‘physical’ I mean ‘describable by the laws of physics.]

(Later, however, I hope to submit to the consideration of my gentle reader the idea that maybe we should include the force exerted by the marble as part of the tactile sensation, the tactile Idea. )

By treating tactile Ideas as mental contents, Berkeley can retain his claim that touch gives us direct access to the physical object, without the mediation of any objects at all standing in the way — much less strange entities such as tactile Ideas seen as objects with tactile properties.  The tactile Idea is not an object mediating our access to the felt object in a three-place relation comprising mind, mediating mental object with properties, and physical object.  Rather, it is this access.

Of course, if visual Ideas are to be treated the same way, we would end up with a direct perception theory of vision, not a representational theory.  Visual perception would be a two-place relation between a mind and the physical object (when the visual experience has an object), not a three-place relation comprising mind, visual Idea, and physical object.  In the case of after-images and hallucinations, the visual experience would have a content (identical with the the event that is that experience), but it would have not object.  To the exclamation ‘surely you are seeing something when you see a wine-red afterimage or hallucinate that magenta rhinoceros grazing at your feet as you write this screed’, the proper rejoinder is ‘no, I am not seeing anything.’  For there is no inner, mental object that is wine red (in the case of the afterimage) or magenta (in the case of the hallucinated rhinoceros).

So if Berkeley is to retain his indirect, or representational theory of visual perception and admit the existence of physical objects as well, he has to retain the notion of a visual Idea as a mental, inner object possessing properties such as wine red, magenta, yellow ocher, or burnt sienna.  These objects stand in the way, between the mind and the physical object.

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When I “see” a wine-red afterimage, it may seem odd to deny the existence of something that has the property wine-red.  As a matter of my personal biography, I have found this denial a bit counter-intuitive to make. I see this wine-red thing, dammit!  It’s right there before me!  (Even though no one else can see it.)  Likewise, when I hallucinate a magenta rhinoceros grazing peacefully at my feet (this is my study rhino) … er … I mean … were I to hallucinate a magenta rhinoceros, I see all this rather powerful vivid magenta, dammit!  (Even though no one else can see what I see.)  How could a color exist without being the property of a colored thing?  So how could there not be something magenta before me?  Do you really want to deny that magenta exists (er, I mean, would exist) in my visual field?

But neither the afterimage nor the hallucinated rhinoceros are physical objects.  Were I to try to touch the rhinoceros, no equal and opposite reaction would meet my action.  And there is no way I can even try to touch the afterimage — it does not exist in a space in which reaching for it can make sense.  If these objects are not physical objects, they must be mental objects.  These are “inner” mental objects with properties, such as wine red or magenta or  yellow ocher.

Add to this line of thought the fact that every perceptual or quasi-perceptual event has a cause, and you get a theory of visual perception that renders visual perception indirect in the way articulated above.  [Combine this line of thought with the idea that the object of perception must be present, not just on the sensory surface, but inside it (the sensory object must be where the causal chain ends), and you end up with the notion that every object of visual perception must be an inner, mental object.]  In the case of visual perception, the event of kicking, which it is without exception describable as kicking a kick, is always also kicking a tree.  Visual perception always has a mental entity as its direct object; at best, a physical thing can be just the indirect object of perception.

Would the same type of argument pack any punch at all in showing (or seeming to show) that tactile perception has just an indirect “grasp” of the physical object?  Since there does not seem to be anything like an “aftertouch” that would correspond to an afterimage, I will focus on the possibility of tactile hallucination.

Suppose that I am hallucinating the following:  I am resting my elbow on a marble countertop.  I seem feel the equal and opposite force of the cool, smooth, hard marble as it meets the weight I press into it via my elbow — that is to say, I seem to feel the (ostensible) marble’s hardness and resistance to my body.  Likewise, I seem to feel the pressure on my somewhat rubbery skin as both the marble and the bone of my elbow press into it.   Oh no!  I have placed too much pressure on the countertop!  A piece of it has broken off and smashed into my toe!

But I am hallucinating.  There is no physical marble outside my mind that my body is leaning against.  Nor is there any slab of mental marble floating around (would something that has the property of heaviness float?) in my mind possessing the properties of smoothness, coolness, and hardness, and capable of  exerting any force, whether gravitational or equal-and-opposite-reactional, upon any physical object, including upon that physical object that I am.  Were these allegedly non-physical objects capable of exerting/undergoing such forces, they would in fact be physical, that is to say, describable by the laws of physics.

I am hallucinating the events occurring in my body as well.  My body exists, thank God, but I am hallucinating the various events that are ostensibly taking place within it and to it:  my elbow bone pressing into my skin and other flesh that is ostensibly in contact with the ostensible marble countertop; the ostensible marble pressing into that same flesh from the other side; the piece of marble dropping onto my toe.  None of these events is actually happening.  For the same reasons there is no mental marble slab floating around in my mind like an object in the opening of the TWILIGHT ZONE — but wait!  One of the ostensible properties of the ostensible marble is weight — so this mental slab couldn’t be just floating —  there is no mental ‘my body’ floating around there either.

To feel an object is to impinge one’s physical flesh-and-blood-and-bone self upon it, or to suffer its impinging upon this flesh-and-blood-and-bone self.  This is why any completely convincing tactile hallucination — if any such ever occur — would need to include hallucinatory (and ostensible) events occurring in and to one’s physical body.  And it is also why any object of a tactile Idea has to be physical.  It is not possible to get one’s hands upon, impinge upon, a mental, non-physical entity.  The smoothness, coolness,  hardness, resistance, capacity to exert or suffer a force of an object become tactilely perceived properties of an object only given the impact/suffering of tactically sensitive flesh.

What we are left with is an event, an action that looks less and less “mental” (I shall now start placing this word in quotes in order to cease pretending I really know what this word means).  If the ostensible object of my touching does not exist “outside the mind”, it does not exist.  There is something occurring, however — an event of feeling.  Idea. This Idea, however, is similar in structure to a kick, which usually is directed towards an object but sometimes is not.  When the marble countertop exists, the tactile Idea is akin to kicking a tree (which act is also describable as kicking a kick).  But when the marble countertop does not exist because I am hallucinating, the tactile Idea is akin to just an objectless kicking a kick.  In a sense that will be clarified later on [promissory note], I am not feeling anything.

On the kicking a kick side, the force-feeling, the hardness-feeling, the coolness-feeling, the resistance-feeling.

But then have to bring in the physical — the fingers and elbows and toe getting smashed, and it starts getting a bit problematic to call this an Idea.

Nonetheless:

It is not at all plausible (to repeat the point already made in paragraph x above) to argue:  ‘There are no non-physical slabs of marble existing only in my mind possessing  the properties of smoothness, coolness, and hardness and capable of of exerting forces upon another

My body does exist, thank God, but it is not exerting/receiving any forces from material objects.  That body exists only in my mind — so I will say, but only as a first approximation.

Afterimages don’t push back.

Think of as having same structure as kicking a kick | kicking a tree.  Touch is both.  No mental slab of marble.  Vision is always kicking a kick according to the above.  What would be possible reasons for thinking this.

*********

Of course, this interpretation of Berkeley is ever so slightly (just slightly, I hope!) tendentious.  So far as I know, Berkeley never explicitly says that Ideas have colors or have other properties.  The interpretation relies on the his seeming to equate the objects of vision (for example, the Visibile Moon) with conglomerations of Ideas.  The Visibile Moon is luminous, implying that it has some color or other.  It is difficult to see how Ideas could be conjoined to form a conglomeration with luminosity and a color unless they were themselves luminous and colored; therefore it would seem that visual Ideas have to have properties.

But there are interpreters, such as George Pitcher, who argue that we can make more pieces of what Berkeley says cohere with one another if we think of his Ideas not as objects of sensation (and therefore not as entities with properties), but as events or “acts”.

An Idea on this interpretation would be an event that has the same structure as a kick.  Let’s say that Dr. Johnson kicks a tree (while proclaiming ‘I refute Berkeley thus!’)  This event can be described in two ways:  ‘This person kicked a tree’, and ‘this person kicked a kick’.  The tree in the first description of of course the object towards which the kick was directed; the kick in the second description is not such an object, but is identical with the kicking event itself.

A kick may have an object towards which it is directed, as when Dr. Johnson kicks the tree.  Or it might not.  Bruce Lee, for example, may be demonstrating a particular martial art move without actually kicking anything.  Just so, the tactile Idea of cool, smooth marble may have an object towards which it is directed — the marble counter top over which I am passing my hands, or it might not.  I might be hallucinating the feeling of cool, smooth marble.  If I am hallucinating, the noun phrase ‘tactile Idea of cool, smooth marble’ names not some object to which the sensation is directed, but a sensory event.  [I will try to claim the event normally has “non-mental” aspects, my physical fingers passing over the marble.]

Because of the grammatical similarity between ‘tree’ and ‘kick’ in the above kick sentences, both serving as grammatical objects in the sentences, one could theoretically think that there is some sort of special object called a ‘kick’ towards which the event of kicking is directed.

Practically speaking, I rather suspect this sort of confusion is unlikely to occur when we are talking about kicks.  But this confusion may be occurring should one think that sensing a wine red color and sensing an oblong shape , say, is to be analyzed in terms of an event, sensing, that has as its object an entity that is both wine red in color and oblong in shape.  In short, a thing with properties.  If one “sees” a wine-red, oblong afterimage, or hallucinates a magenta rhinoceros, there is clearly nothing present in extra-mental space that is wine red, oblong, magenta, or shaped like a rhinoceros.  But (it would seem) there is something that is wine red and oblong (in the afterimage case) or magenta and rhinoceros-shaped (in the hallucination case).  Since these things do not exist in extra-mental space, they must exist “in the mind” — maybe even in some sort of “internal space”.  I know — let’s call these things ‘Ideas’.  Visual access to the physical objects available to us via touch would then have to be mediate in character — accomplished not directly but through the intermediary of visual Ideas.

As we have seen in the section above, this kind of analysis falls apart in the case of tactile sensations — tactile Ideas. Should one hallucinate the tactile presence of a slab of cool, smooth marble, or the tactile presence of rough bark, there is surely no mental, i.e., non-physical object that is cool and smooth in a marble-like way, or rough in a bark-like way.

In these cases, sensing coolness and smoothness | sensing roughness would need to be treated along the lines of an objectless kicking a kick.  At a first approximation, the coolness and smoothness | roughness would be identical with the events ‘sensing coolness and smoothness | sensing roughness.  [footnote:  I say ‘at a first approximation because later I intend to modify this claim substantially into a quite different claim.  For now, however, I will let it stand and use it as a kind of guide-post helping to lead one into a more complete analysis]

In the case of touching a physical object that does exist, thank you very much (the slab of marble, the bark), the treatment would be that of kicking a tree.  Kicking a tree is also kicking a kick, but now the event has an object it is directed towards.  There being no mental object with the requisite tactile properties, there is nothing that serves as a mental intermediary between the sensing events and their objects.  There would be a direct perception of the marble | bark.

Because Berkeley holds in the NEW VISION (at least in black and white) that that we do enjoy/suffer direct tactile perception of physical objects, applying to tactile Ideas the kicking a kick/kicking a tree analysis just given seems like a good way to interpret his tactile Ideas.

George Pitcher thinks there are additional reasons as well to interpret Berkeley’s Ideas generally in this manner.  [Link to this and to my digestion of it.]  Certainly one would want a consistent interpretation of Berkeley’s notion of an Idea that holds good both for visual and tactile Ideas, especially given this:

Note that, when I speak of tangible ideas, I take the word idea for any immediate object of sense, or understanding — in which large signification it is commonly used by the moderns.

George Berkeley, AN ESSAY TOWARDS A NEW THEORY OF VISION, in BERKELEY Essay, Principles, Dialogues With Selections From Other Writings (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York) 1929) p. 36.  Henceforth A NEW THEORY OF VISION when referring to that Essay in this volume.

Berkeley’s use of the word ‘object’ here presents problems for those proposing a violent reading of the text, to say the least.  But it does seem plain that he wants an interpretation of ‘idea’ that would hold good both for visual and for tactile (or “tangible”) ideas.  If tactile ideas are events rather than objects with properties, visual ideas should be as well.

[Direction.  The physical body. Kicking.]

So subjecting sensing tactilely to a kicking a kick vs. kicking a tree type analysis removes

Clearly, Berkeley’s tactile Ideas would need to be interpreted this way if he is to make physical objects existing in extra-mental space their direct objects.

overOne can kick a kick, and one can kick, say, a tree (perhaps as a way of saying ‘I refute Berkeley thus’).  Sticking to the Berkeleyan framework, having an Idea of wine red, for example, that is to say, sensing wine red,  is more like kicking a kick than it is like kicking a tree:  there is no mental object (and, for Berkeley, there are no other kinds) towards which the event is directed.  What is meant by a kick in ‘kicking a kick’ is exhausted by the act of kicking; what is meant by ‘wine red’ in ‘sensing wine red’ (having an Idea of wine red) is exhausted by ‘sensing wine red’.

Of course, kicking a kick may also be an act of kicking tree rather than an objectless act (done say, to demonstrate a particular move in a martial art). Likewise, unless one is a Berkeleyan idealist, one is likely to think that there normally exists an extra-mental wine-red object one is directed towards when the event ‘sensing wine red’ occurs.  The Berkeley of the NEW VISION thinks that there is no such extra-mental object in the case of sensing wine red, but there

When an event of sensing the smoothness and coldness of polished marble occurs (when there is a tactile Idea of marble smoothness and roughness, to state things in a Berkeleyan way),

Distance and Location

Apart from what Berkeley said in black and white and what he may or may not have actually been thinking as he put down his sentences in black and white, a brief look at touch and vision themselves show that touch and vision invite, tempt us towards, the sort of treatment Berkeley gives them in the NEW VISION, whether or not we accept that invitation.  There is something about touch that wants, so to speak, to be direct, and something about vision that wants to be indirect.

Touch lends itself to a direct realist interpretation in a way that vision does not.  The felt object makes its presence … well … felt … directly on the sensing surface, the skin.  There is no gap to leap across, so to speak, to get access to the felt object.  It presents itself right here as it impinges upon and transfers energy to this sensory surface, one’s skin, whether by its motion towards and into one (say as one is catching a ball) or by the opposite and equal force it directs into one as one leans on their elbow at the desk, or as they stroke silk, pressing ever so lightly and delicately into the silk.

But the seen object at least seems to be at a distance from the sensing surface of the see-er.  It makes its presence apparent (feel the weakening of the adjectives as I go from ‘makes its presence felt’ to ‘makes its presence apparent’) via what at first sight looks like an intermediary, i.e., photons reflected from the object that enter the sensing surface, the retina, and transfer their energy to that other important part of the sensing surface, the brain.

It would seem then that what is seen directly are photons — light.  What we normally take to be the objects of vision — tables, tea pots, chairs, trees, houses, pineapples, cacti, cliffs and stars — would seem to be seen just indirectly.  (In the cases of the stars, however, perhaps a case could be made that what we are seeing is indeed light.)  [Footnote:  if I am not mistaken, in certain moods Berkeley thinks that what we see is light.]  This is the path we are led into if we have the intuition that the direct object of a sense must impinge upon the sensory surface.  The greater-than-zero distance from the sensing surface of what is normally taken to be the object of vision beckons us to enter that path, is extending an invite.

As I suggested above, we do not necessarily have to accept this invitation.  One way to politely decline it is    But wait — shouldn’t the objects of vision be regarded as the sensed wine-red, sensed sea-glass viridian green etc. inside my brain?  Well no — not if we think of sensing wine red or sea-glass green as kicking a kick as opposed to kicking a tree.  All right, then, let’s regard the sensing event as comprising the events going on in the brain and what is going on in the retina and what is going on at the lenses and what is going on with the photons bouncing off the table, pineapple, cactus etc.   Then we can get back out tables and trees etc as direct objects of vision.

By contrast, there is no such question     there is zero distance between the sensing surface of my skin and the rough bark of the tree as I run my hand along the bark’s surface. Through touch, I am in contact with the physical object itself.  There is no question of the tactile experience having to “reach out” to the object because a physical me — an entity with weight and heft –, engaging my physical hand, has already done the reaching out.  Touch is the direct realist sense par excellence. There is something about touch that wants to be direct.

And, as I hope to show (soon, or at least sometime before I die), the visual experience actually does reach out (in some sense of ‘actually does reach out’) to the physical object (Merleau-Ponty), or at least seems to so reach out (Berkeley) because of the way touch is implicated in the visual experience.  Touch informs the direct realist character (real or ostensible) of visual experience.

Impression.  Presentation as opposed to mere representation:  the object has a presence because it, in its fullness, is impinging upon one.  Felt impingement.

Given this, that the seen object is (with the exception of that portion of one’s body that is in their view) at a distance from one can seem a bit paradoxical.

*********

This time my homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM takes the form of Brad Pitt in THE FIGHT CLUB.  This image seems appropriate for a disquisition on touch and brutal physical reality.

Brad-Pitt-Fight-Club

If Plato can have a thing for Alkibiades, I can have a thing for gorgeous rednecks.  This particular redneck needs to stop smoking, however.


I Am Not The Only One Whose Gaydar Starts Pinging Like Mad When I Enter A Den Of Thomists

My gaydar always starts pinging like mad when a bunch of Thomists get together:

https://spirit-salamander.blogspot.com/2019/08/all-round-critique-of-thomistic-natural.html?fbclid=IwAR1rr–nCM5gm02_5YydHjaN-g-545OicuzCYBirTKZ83eZi7qXF8d-Eyew

The following passage is illuminating regarding being gay and at the same time a Thomist:

In the course of my academic work with Thomas Aquinas, I came into contact with many men (and a few women) who were enthusiastic about the thinking of Thomas Aquinas. And not a few of these men were also gay, as I noticed on closer acquaintance. However, only one of the well-known Thomists dared to stand also publicly to it: Mark D. Jordan, perhaps the most talented of the American Thomas researchers. Jordan, in contrast to the many Thomists from the clergy, had the advantage that he could take this step without taking any economic risk. Originally from the conservative milieu and still employed at the Institute for Medieval Philosophy of the Catholic University of Notre Dame in Indiana, at the time of his outing he already had the prospect of a chair at a non-denominational university. Here his predisposition and his plea for a fundamental change of direction of the Catholic Church with regard to homosexuality could not harm him. Today, Jordan holds the highly prestigious and lucrative Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Chair at Harvard Divinity School, where he continues to give courses in Thomistic philosophy. […] But now back to the question whether there is a connection between homosexuality and the preference for Thomism. I believe today that this question can be answered with an unequivocal yes. The way the Aquinate thinks is to the personal benefit of many homosexual Thomists. His entire philosophy and theology are consistently objectiveist and self-forgetful. He never theologizes “from below”, from man, but always “from above”, from God and revelation. In contrast to other theologians of church history his person and his individuality play no role in his work. A genre like the famous confessions of the ancient church father Augustine, where he reports on the sins of his youth life, is profoundly opposed to Thomas’ way of writing. In his books one searches in vain for religious feelings, piety, doubts or sins of the author. That might also be the reason why a few years after his death in 1274 Thomas could be easily elevated to the holy of all theologians, to “Doctor Angelicus” or angelic teachers. The subject, the theologian himself and his private life, remain completely hidden in Thomism. Typical for it is the Thomistic principle: “The thing must speak, not the person”. In a system structured by such a premise one can as a homosexual Catholic theologian without problems think at home without having to withdraw as a gay – and vice versa. Thus here the double life of many gay theologians finds its programmatic anchoring, so to speak, endowed with highest consecrations. Then there would be only the unambiguous statements of Thomas about the “sin of Sodom”, as he calls homosexuality in typical medieval language. The more one understands oneself as a Thomist and the more one is titled by others, the more one naturally thinks about this contradiction. But also for this there is an explanation compatible with classical Thomism: One must, as with all great religious writings, distinguish in Thomas’ thinking between the substantial central motifs and the subordinate. Just as there are load-bearing foundation walls and foundations in a house that cannot simply be demolished without causing the entire building to collapse, there are also fundamental ideas in Thomas’s mental building that are fundamental. These mostly refer on the one hand to structural characteristics of thinking, e.g. the classification of nature and supernaturality, of philosophy and theology, state and church, and on the other hand to his endeavour to bring faith into dialogue with current science and profane thinking. It is precisely in this readiness to engage in dialogue that he proves to be revolutionary and original for his time and still topical for our time. On the other hand, there is that which is of secondary importance. It goes without saying that Thomas talks to the science of his time and therefore arrives at conclusions that are based on the errors of the natural sciences of the time and the social regulations. Here the most important thinker of the Catholic Church reveals himself completely as a child of his time, the High Middle Ages, his thinking as historically conditioned and thus changeable. The theories and their legal consequences that came about in this way are, however, only secondary for Thomas, and he would never have come up with the idea of attributing them supertemporal significance. Some things are no longer relevant today. (my own translation from German, Berger, David – Der heilige Schein: Als schwuler Theologe in der katholischen Kirche, The Holy Pretense: As a Gay Theologian in the Catholic Church)

https://spirit-salamander.blogspot.com/2019/08/all-round-critique-of-thomistic-natural.html?fbclid=IwAR1rr–nCM5gm02_5YydHjaN-g-545OicuzCYBirTKZ83eZi7qXF8d-Eyew


Things Natural Lawyers Say (4)

Silly Natural Lawyer. Don’t you know that an angel in heaven does a facepalm each time you uncritically rely on Edward Feser or John Skalko to interpret Aristotle? Or interpret any other thinker, for that matter?

John S. reacts this way to some of the things a critic of Natural Law Theory, Jonathan Pearce, had once said on a forum on the multi-author blog Patheos:

If Mr. Pearce would have just taken the pains to actually examine what some of the great natural law thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and John Locke actually said he would have found that such thinkers all opposed homosexual behavior. Don’t believe me? Check out the history in the book Disordered Actions.

John S., https://naturallawethics.medium.com/sex-and-sexuality-defending-natural-law-against-pearces-straw-man-439815224fbd

And if only I took the pains to read the wrappers on sticks of sugarless gum, John S. says, I would not be so pro-gay! And if only one took checked out the history presented in Skalko’s *Disordered Actions*, one would realize that all the great Natural Law thinkers opposed homosexual behavior! Even Aristotle! Just look at Aristotle’s *Nicomachean Ethics*, 7.5! Oh wait…what Richard Carrier says about Edward Feser here applies equally well to John Skalko. Both are relying on a corrupt text:

In this particular case, if Laird is correctly representing Feser, what Feser said about Aristotle is false. And it’s false because of a fundamental and common failure to take history seriously—and indeed, a common theme with Feser (and, really, most Christian apologetics) is a disregard of professionally assessed evidence in any field, whether science or history. He never cares about research, evidence, or facts, beyond whatever he randomly finds that suits him. In reality “homosexuality” did not exist as a concept in Greco-Roman antiquity, but it was almost universally assumed sexual desire among men was natural and moral, and only being on the receiving end was disgraceful or entailed accepting a lower social status—but even then, still not immoral. This has already been ably covered by renowned classicist and philosopher Martha Nussbaum in her chapter on this very issue in Sex and Social Justice (Oxford 2000), an anthology of her work I highly recommend. Indeed, that chapter in particular is a product of her sharing the rare distinction of being one of the only philosophers in history to be called into court as an expert witness in philosophy. She also recommends K.J. Dover’s study, Greek Homosexuality (Harvard 1989).

In actual fact the text of Aristotle on this point (in Nicomachean Ethics 7.5) is corrupt. Feser evidently trusted English translations (most of which composed by 19th century Christian bigots) that purport to imagine what was there rather than actually rendering the words of Aristotle. In fact, words are missing from the key part of the sentence Feser relies on; it now reads, as a sample list of behaviors caused by mental disorders, “pulling out one’s hair and biting one’s nails, and eating charcoal or dirt, and in addition to these, the [] of sexual pleasure [either with, by, to, for, or in] men,” and alas, we don’t know what “the […]” was (other than that it was some feminine noun in Attic Greek, and there may yet be more words as well missing), nor for that reason can we know what the correct preposition in English would be (“with”? “by”? “to”? “for”? “in”?). But whatever he originally did say there (and contrary to many a Christian bigot misreading other passages in his corpus, Aristotle never elsewhere discusses the general morality of homosexual acts or feelings), Aristotle explains these are blameless acts, not immoral; so Feser cannot justify citing this verse as an Aristotelian confirmation that gay sex is immoral or ought to be condemned (any more than “biting your nails”). In fact, Aristotle’s point is that these should be tolerated, as just lamentable quirks; perhaps gross or embarrassing, but nothing to bother punishing. But it’s also doubtful the missing text even reconstructs as “any” sex among men anyway. Given all we know of the ethics of that era, the missing word(s) surely intended something like nymphomania, an excessive pursuit of sex (something “habitual” rather than moderate; Nussbaum discusses the best candidates for the Greek words missing here), and may even have meant women pursuing multiple lovers (hence the plural, “with men”). Of course Aristotle was himself a bigot of his own time and made many false statements about what is proper or natural, so we shouldn’t be looking to him as always an authority anyway. But it’s very unlikely he ever thought or said gay sex was by itself morally wrong. That simply isn’t how the Athenian mores he always strains to defend operated.

Richard Carrier, Thomism, The Bogus Science, at https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/18356kiije

But I will let these famed philologists, John S., Edward Feser, and John Skalko debate Martha Nussbaum and Richard Carrier on the integrity of the Greek manuscript.

Clearly these three are not reliable scholars the integrity of whose work can be trusted implicitly. As with so many right-wingers, anything John S., Edward Feser, or John Skalko say has to be double-checked and triple-checked before it can be accepted.

One does not expect bigotry to produce good scholarship.


The Mirth-Provoking Counterexamples To Natural Law Theory: Drinking Ocean Water (Clean Version)

Summary: The telos of drinking water is, well, hydration — getting water into the tissues as needed. But drinking ocean water or water from the Great Salt Lake in Utah accomplishes the opposite. Water gets sucked out of the tissues by osmosis, defeating the purpose of drinking water. That some water may get absorbed through the small intestine is completely irrelevant to the fact that this purpose gets defeated. So orthodox Natural Law Theory must count drinking salt water as immoral because “violating” a natural human function is always immoral. The rigidity of this “always” means that drinking even a small amount of salt water must count as immoral according to the orthodox version of Natural Law Theory. Because this conclusion is, quite frankly, ridiculous, I dismiss the orthodox version of Natural Law Theory. Non-orthodox versions, inspired by Ruth Garrett Millikan and Philippa Foot, may still be viable.

Silly Natural Lawyer: Don’t You Know That An Angel In Heaven Does A Facepalm Whenever You Fail To Recognize That Hydration And Dehydration are Opposites Of One Another?

The Natural Lawyer John S. tells us:

But that you drink a little bit of ocean water isn’t immoral because the telos of drinking is[,] well[,] hydration and that’s what drinking water is ordered to by nature even if mixed in with other things.

John S., at https://www.facebook.com/groups/TeamAquinas/posts/5121443541273483/?comment_id=5121674681250369&reply_comment_id=5179015648849605&notif_id=1655065639522554&notif_t=group_comment_mention

John S.’s choice of words is interesting, because drinking ocean water by itself results in one degree or another of dehydration, not hydration. The added salt that is now in the bloodstream pulls water from the tissues by way of osmosis. https://sciencing.com/effect-salt-sugar-dehydrated-cells-20371.html Perhaps enough water gets pulled out to let the kidneys filter out the salt and excrete it in the urine. At any rate, the kidneys have to struggle a bit to do this. The body ends up using more water to get rid of the salt in the ocean water than it takes in by drinking that water. This does not sound like hydration to me. It sound more like dehydration, the opposite of or contrary to hydration.

“Thirst neurons” in the brain keep track of the level of salt in the bloodstream; cells in the gut also keep track of the amount of salt coming in and send messages to the brain. When the salt concentrations are too high, you experience thirst. You start looking for fresh water to drink. The thirst goes away when one lowers the concentration of salt in the body sufficiently. Clearly, then, drinking water has as at least one of its teloi this: maintaining the proper concentration of salt in the body, the proper balance of water and salt. When the right balance is achieved, the cells have sufficient water and salt to do their thing.

Drinking small amounts of ocean water or water from the Great Salt Lake in Utah will not instantly mummify you into a dry, lifeless corpse. Small amounts of salt water are not poison. But they do start up a move of water out of the tissues and out of the body. We end up not with hydration, but with counter-hydration, contrary-hydration. So drinking even small amounts of salt water defeats the purpose of drinking water, which John S. himself tells us is hydration. It is a violation, as John Skalko might put it, of a human function … and such a violation is always bad, according to Skalko. Did I emphasize that “always” enough? So drinking even small quantities of salt water would put one in the same league as (oh my gosh!) homosexuals and liars:

Violating a natural human function is always bad.

The function of speech is for conveying what is on one’s mind and the function of the sexual organs is for the generation and education of offspring.

Thus, violating the natural function of speech by using it for lying or of the sexual organs by using them for ungenerative ends is always bad.

Skalko, p. 20. Emphasis mine

Skalko could very well have added:

4. Thus violating the natural function of drinking water, hydration (getting water into the body and the tissues), by doing the opposite and dehydrating oneself (getting water out of the body and the tissues) is always bad.

And since drinking salt water is a voluntary act, we are talking ‘bad’ as in ‘immoral’ here.

But 4 is ridiculous. Drinking salt water is not always bad. Whether drinking salt water is immoral or even just bad depends upon the circumstances. If I am both very, very thirsty and in despair, and I try to end my life by drinking salt water, that act would be immoral if suicide is immoral. If the fresh water supplies on the boat I am on are limited but I purposefully put myself in a state of thirst to experience a kind of thrill, that act would perhaps be so imprudent and wasteful of resources as to count as immoral. If I am just curious what the water in the Great Salt Lake tastes like and I don’t intend to do myself in and there is no scarcity of freshwater (any other condition you can think of, Dear Reader, goes here), there is nothing wrong with drinking a small amount of water from the Great Salt Lake.

I therefore dismiss Natural Law Theory, at least as it is propounded by those holding fast to Skalko’s more rigid version. The sticking point here is the “always”. So far, I have not seen any explicit defense of the notion that “violating” (but what, really, does “violating” mean here?) a natural human function is always bad. But that “always” is clearly important to the Natural Lawyers, since it forces them to expend considerable energy defending the immorality of lying to the Nazi who asks if you are hiding a Jewish person or a gay person in the basement. It seems to me that the prominent Natural Lawyer Christopher Tomaszewski does not defend this adequately at all.

This is not to disparage all Natural-law-like theories, such as those propounded by Ruth Garrett Millikan and Philippa Foot. I do believe, for example, that Millikan’s principle of teleofunctionality commits her (whether she knows it or not) to the proposition that homosexuality is part of the human Norm (“Norm” with a capital “N” to distinguish Norms from merely statistical norms). The failure to accept the truth of this proposition can arise only from ignorance plus politics — a deadly combination. But more on this topic later.

I now turn to an attempt to discern why John S. thinks drinking salt water still fulfils the telos of drinking water even though the tissues end up losing, not gaining water.

Certainly drinking nothing but ocean water will kill you and so doing that is immoral. But that you drink a little bit of ocean water isn’t immoral because the telos of drinking is well hydration and that’s what drinking water is ordered to by nature even if mixed in with other things. The premise we hold isn’t that “every action must have its end completely fulfilled” but that “every action must be ordered to its natural end.” The telos of drinking is fulfilled in drinking water even with other things mixed in, unless you are drinking pure poison.

John S., https://www.facebook.com/groups/TeamAquinas/posts/5121443541273483/?comment_id=5121674681250369&reply_comment_id=5179015648849605&notif_id=1655065639522554&notif_t=group_comment_mention

Because it is difficult to discern what John S.’s point is in the above passage, we need to apply to it some hermeneutics. If we take John S. literally, he is making the maybe-not-so-informative claim that the telos of drinking water is drinking water. As far as mirth-provoking assertions go, this claim does not quite reach the level of John S.’s assertion that I would not be so pro-gay if I bothered to read the text on sugarless gum wrappers; nonetheless, it is getting there.

But one is supposed to apply charity to an obscure author when doing hermeneutics. So I will ignore the implication that the ‘telos of drinking water is drinking water’.

In the passage above, John S. makes the correct claim that the telos of drinking is hydration. Although the biologist certainly has the last word, I rather doubt that they will contradict John S. and me anytime soon regarding our agreement in this matter. Unfortunately, John S. does not spell out what he means by “hydration”. Does he mean ‘getting water into the stomach or intestines’? This would obviously be pointless unless the water got into the bloodstream. So does he mean, then, getting water into the bloodstream? Again, that would be pointless unless the water got taken up as needed by the various bodily tissues.

Certainly what I mean by “hydration” is ‘eventually making water available to the bodily tissues’. But the fact that more water gets used in the process of getting rid of the excess salt than is taken in by drinking the ocean water means that the water needs to be pulled from the tissues in the body, to make up for the deficit. But this is so clearly a case of drinking saltwater being “contrary” to the telos of drinking water that I will be charitable to John S. and assume this is not his meaning.

So I will take it that what John S. means by ‘hydration’ is ‘water (and the salt) gets absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine (and through whatever else). Voila! Hydration! Because the water gets absorbed, the telos of drinking water has been fulfilled! If this is not what John S. is saying, then, frankly, I have no idea what he is talking about. But then, of course, I have no idea why he would make an exception to the telos fulfillment if what one has mixed in with the water is, say, strychnine. All that matters, after all, is that for at least a short stretch of time, there are more H2O molecules in the body than before.

But to think in the way that, our of charity, I am attributing to John S. is to confuse the telos of the small intestine (that organ considered as a subsystem in the larger system of I will call the “human hydrological system”) with the telos of that larger system. The telos of the larger system is, well, hydration, getting water into the tissues when needed by keeping the concentration of salt in the body within a narrow range. Drawing water out of the tissues is contrary to, frustrates, defeats the purpose of hydration. That the dehydration may be absolutely minimal counts for nothing, given the rigidity of what I will call the Absolutist version of Natural Law Theory, with its “always”.

If one is to try to ascertain the telos of a system, one would surely do well to consider what the entire system is doing. Otherwise, one is just defining the proximate telos of a subsystem of the total system. John S. makes this mistake when, ignoring the complete human hydrological system, he takes just one part of that system, the absorption of water into the bloodstream, as the telos of the entire system. System tend to be cyclical in nature: this is true of the visual system, as we shall see, of the energy/nutrient-intake system, the natural hydrological system (evaporation from the oceans, cloud formation, precipitation from the clouds, and runoff of water back into the ocean) and the human hydrological system. Drinking water is the start of the human hydrological system, whereupon the water gets transported to the bloodstream, wherein various organs maintain a salt/water balance, which in turn enables the various tissues to “hydrate”, ie. gain water when needed, whereupon the brain signals thirst when the tissues are not getting enough water, whereupon one drinks more water. If one has not traced a complete cycle this way, one is not dealing with a complete system.

The Thomists, of course, tend to talk in terms of “powers” and “faculties”, though sometimes they will let one translate these into what I take to be a rough equivalent, “systems”. Although “powers” may actually be useful as a placeholder when all the concrete details are missing, so that it may not be totally fair to laugh at the scholastic doctor who informs us that opium puts one to sleep because it has a “dormitive power”, when the details are available one should, I daresay, talk in terms of systems instead of powers and faculties.

When one talks in terms of systems, one is talking about salt drawing water out of the tissues by means of osmosis, whereupon the kidneys attempt to use the extra water to flush out the excess salt through the urine, and so on. With concrete details like this, it becomes blindingly obvious how and why drinking ocean water defeats the purpose (or “violates”, as Skalko would put it) the telos of drinking water. Dehydration, after all, is the opposite of, is contrary to, hydration.

But when one it talking instead in terms of powers, one is in effect spraying a fog of Thomistic jargon over the phenomena, making it more likely that one will miss things such as the dehydrating effect of salt on bodily tissues, or miss the fact that one is not ascribing a telos to a system but to a subsystem, or that one is trying to place boundaries where boundaries should not be placed. How does one place boundaries in a fog?

If John S. is saying anything intelligible at all, he is placing a boundary within the human hydrological system at the point where water and salt enter the bloodstream from the intestines. But this move is egregiously ad hoc. For the only reason to place the boundary there, and not someplace else (say, at the ending/beginning point in the cycle where one accepts/refuses another glass of water) is to be able to say that the telos of drinking has been fulfilled at that point, even though one ends up with less water in the body than before. And the only reason one wants to say that the telos of drinking water has been fulfilled is to avoid facing up to the fact that the standard counterexamples to the orthodox, rigid, Natural Law Theory of the Ed Feser (I find the Verbose Stoic’s denial that Feser belongs to this crew a bit unconvincing), John Skalko, Timothy Hsiao, and Christopher Tomaszewski variety truly are counterexamples. They have not been defanged. They remain counterexamples. And it takes just one to show that Natural Law Theory cannot be taken seriously as a guide to moral action.

What John Holbo points out in his classic post on Crooked Timber entitled The Steelwool Scrub remains apropos.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/03/27/707289059/blech-brain-science-explains-why-youre-not-thirsty-for-salt-water


The Mirth-Provoking Counterexamples To Natural Law Theory: Drinking Ocean Water

Summary: The telos of drinking water is, well, hydration — getting water into the tissues as needed. But drinking ocean water or water from the Great Salt Lake in Utah accomplishes the opposite. Water gets sucked out of the tissues by osmosis, defeating the purpose of drinking water. That some water may get absorbed through the small intestine is completely irrelevant to the fact that this purpose gets defeated. So orthodox Natural Law Theory must count drinking salt water as immoral because “violating” a natural human function is always immoral according to that theory. The rigidity of this “always” means that drinking even a small amount of salt water must count as immoral according to the orthodox version of Natural Law Theory. Because this conclusion is, quite frankly, ridiculous, I dismiss the orthodox version of Natural Law Theory. Non-orthodox versions, inspired by Ruth Garrett Millikan and Philippa Foot, may still be viable.

Silly Natural Lawyer: Don’t You Know That An Angel In Heaven Does A Facepalm Whenever You Fail To Recognize That Hydration And Dehydration are Opposites Of One Another?

The Natural Lawyer John S. solemnly intones the following:

But that you drink a little bit of ocean water isn’t immoral because the telos of drinking is[,] well[,] hydration and that’s what drinking water is ordered to by nature even if mixed in with other things.

John S., at https://www.facebook.com/groups/TeamAquinas/posts/5121443541273483/?comment_id=5121674681250369&reply_comment_id=5179015648849605&notif_id=1655065639522554&notif_t=group_comment_mention

John S.’s choice of words is interesting, because drinking ocean water by itself results in one degree or another of dehydration, not hydration. The added salt that is now in the bloodstream pulls water from the tissues by way of osmosis. https://sciencing.com/effect-salt-sugar-dehydrated-cells-20371.html Perhaps enough water gets pulled out to let the kidneys filter out the salt and excrete it in the urine. At any rate, the kidneys have to struggle a bit to do this. The body ends up using more water to get rid of the salt in the ocean water than it takes in by drinking that water. This does not sound like hydration to me. It sound more like dehydration, the opposite of or contrary to hydration.

“Thirst neurons” in the brain keep track of the level of salt in the bloodstream; cells in the gut also keep track of the amount of salt coming in and send messages to the brain. When the salt concentrations are too high, you experience thirst. You start looking for fresh water to drink. The thirst goes away when one lowers the concentration of salt in the body sufficiently. Clearly, then, drinking water has as at least one of its teloi this: maintaining the proper concentration of salt in the body, the proper balance of water and salt. When the right balance is achieved, the cells have sufficient water and salt to do their thing.

Drinking small amounts of ocean water or water from the Great Salt Lake in Utah will not instantly mummify you into a dry, crinkly, lifeless featherweight corpse. Small amounts of salt water are not poison. But they do start up a move of water out of the tissues and out of the body. We end up not with hydration, but with counter-hydration, contrary-hydration. So drinking even small amounts of salt water defeats the purpose of drinking water, which John S. himself tells us is hydration. It is a violation, as John Skalko might put it, of a human function … and such a violation is always bad, according to Skalko. Did I emphasize that “always” enough? So drinking even small quantities of salt water would put one in the same league as (oh my gosh!) homosexuals and liars:

Violating a natural human function is always bad.

The function of speech is for conveying what is on one’s mind and the function of the sexual organs is for the generation and education of offspring.

Thus, violating the natural function of speech by using it for lying or of the sexual organs by using them for ungenerative ends is always bad.

Skalko, p. 20. Emphasis mine

Skalko could very well have added:

4. Thus violating the natural function of drinking water, hydration (getting water into the body and the tissues), by doing the opposite and dehydrating oneself (getting water out of the body and the tissues) is always bad.

And since drinking salt water is a voluntary act, we are talking ‘bad’ as in ‘immoral’ here.

But 4 is ridiculous. Drinking salt water is not always bad. Whether drinking salt water is immoral or even just bad depends upon the circumstances. If I am both very, very thirsty and in despair, and I try to end my life by drinking salt water, that act would be immoral if suicide is immoral. If the fresh water supplies on the boat I am on are limited but I purposefully put myself in a state of thirst to experience a kind of thrill, that act would perhaps be so imprudent and wasteful of resources as to count as immoral. If I am just curious what the water in the Great Salt Lake tastes like and I don’t intend to do myself in and there is no scarcity of freshwater (any other condition you can think of, Dear Reader, goes here), there is nothing wrong with drinking a small amount of water from the Great Salt Lake.

I therefore dismiss Natural Law Theory, at least as it is propounded by reactionary right-wing Catholics. The sticking point here is the “always”. So far, I have not seen any explicit defense of the notion that “violating” (but what, really, does “violating” mean here?) a natural human function is always bad. But that “always” is clearly important to the Natural Lawyers, since it forces them to expend considerable energy defending the immorality of lying to the Nazi who asks if you are hiding a Jewish person or a gay person in the basement. It seems to me that the prominent Natural Lawyer Christopher Tomaszewski does not defend this adequately at all.

This is not to disparage all Natural-law-like theories, such as those propounded by Ruth Garrett Millikan and Philippa Foot. I do believe, for example, that Millikan’s principle of teleofunctionality commits her (whether she knows it or not) to the proposition that homosexuality is part of the human Norm (“Norm” with a capital “N” to distinguish Norms from merely statistical norms). The failure to accept the truth of this proposition can arise only from ignorance plus politics — a deadly combination. But more on this topic later.

I now turn to a task that I have been putting off until now: climbing down into the dank, fetid, cramped, narrow mind of John S. (if you urge me to say what I really think of this young right-wing hack in training, I will add to the list “sophomoric”, “humorless”, and “childishly sensitive to criticism”, and is in the grips of an unfortunate compulsion to project. But I mean all of these only in the nicest way possible.) in order to examine why he thinks drinking salt water still fulfils the telos of drinking water even though the tissues end up losing, not gaining, water.

Certainly drinking nothing but ocean water will kill you and so doing that is immoral. But that you drink a little bit of ocean water isn’t immoral because the telos of drinking is well hydration and that’s what drinking water is ordered to by nature even if mixed in with other things. The premise we hold isn’t that “every action must have its end completely fulfilled” but that “every action must be ordered to its natural end.” The telos of drinking is fulfilled in drinking water even with other things mixed in, unless you are drinking pure poison.

John S., https://www.facebook.com/groups/TeamAquinas/posts/5121443541273483/?comment_id=5121674681250369&reply_comment_id=5179015648849605&notif_id=1655065639522554&notif_t=group_comment_mention

Because it is difficult to discern what John S.’s point is in the above passage, we need to apply to it some hermeneutics. If we take John S. literally, he is making the maybe-not-so-informative claim that the telos of drinking water is drinking water. As far as mirth-provoking assertions go, this claim does not quite reach the level of John S.’s assertion that I would not be so pro-gay if I bothered to read the text on sugarless gum wrappers; nonetheless, it is getting there.

But one is supposed to apply charity to an obscure author when doing hermeneutics. So I will ignore the implication that the ‘telos of drinking water is drinking water’.

In the passage above, John S. makes the correct claim that the telos of drinking is hydration. Although the biologist certainly has the last word, I rather doubt that they will contradict John S. and me anytime soon regarding our agreement in this matter. Unfortunately, John S. does not spell out what he means by “hydration”. Does he mean ‘getting water into the stomach or intestines’? This would obviously be pointless unless the water got into the bloodstream. So does he mean, then, getting water into the bloodstream? Again, that would be pointless unless the water got taken up as needed by the various bodily tissues.

Certainly what I mean by “hydration” is ‘eventually making water available to the bodily tissues’. But the fact that more water gets used in the process of getting rid of the excess salt than is taken in by drinking the ocean water means that the water needs to be pulled from the tissues in the body, to make up for the deficit. But this is so clearly a case of drinking saltwater being “contrary” to the telos of drinking water that I will be charitable to John S. and assume this is not his meaning.

So I will take it that what John S. means by ‘hydration’ is ‘water (and the salt) gets absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine (and through whatever else). Voila! Hydration! Because the water gets absorbed, the telos of drinking water has been fulfilled! If this is not what John S. is saying, then, frankly, I have no idea what he is talking about. But then, of course, I have no idea why he would make an exception to the telos fulfillment if what one has mixed in with the water is, say, strychnine. All that matters, after all, is that for at least a short stretch of time, there are more H2O molecules in the body than before. As the database theorist C.J. Date says somewhere, coming up with the best interpretation of an author is a bit of a challenge when the author does not seem to be in complete command of their material. — By the way, I welcome the input of any actual biologist who finds an errors in what I have said.

But to think in the way that, out of charity, I am attributing to John S. is to confuse the telos of the small intestine (that organ considered as a subsystem in the larger system of I will call the “human hydrological system”) with the telos of that larger system. The telos of the larger system is, well, hydration, getting water into the tissues when needed by keeping the concentration of salt in the body within a narrow range. Drawing water out of the tissues is contrary to, frustrates, defeats the purpose of hydration. That the dehydration may be absolutely minimal counts for nothing, given the rigidity of what I will call the Absolutist version of Natural Law Theory, with its “always”.

If one is to try to ascertain the telos of a system, one would surely do well to consider what the entire system is doing. Otherwise, one is just defining the proximate telos of a subsystem of the total system. John S. makes this mistake when, ignoring the complete human hydrological system, he takes just one part of that system, the absorption of water into the bloodstream, as the telos of the entire system. Systems tend to be cyclical in nature: this is true of the visual system, as we shall see, of the energy/nutrient-intake system, the natural hydrological system (evaporation from the oceans, cloud formation, precipitation from the clouds, and runoff of water back into the ocean) and the human hydrological system. Drinking water is the start of the human hydrological system, whereupon the water gets transported to the bloodstream, wherein various organs maintain a salt/water balance, which in turn enables the various tissues to “hydrate”, ie. gain water when needed, whereupon the brain signals thirst when the tissues are not getting enough water, whereupon one drinks more water. If one has not traced a complete cycle this way, one is not dealing with a complete system.

The Thomists, of course, tend to talk in terms of “powers” and “faculties” instead of “systems”, though sometimes they will let one translate “powers” and “faculties” into “systems”, which I take to be a rough equivalent. Although “powers” may actually be useful as a placeholder when all the concrete details are missing, so that it may not be totally fair to laugh at the scholastic doctor who informs us that opium puts one to sleep because it has a “dormitive power”, when the details are available one should, I daresay, talk in terms of systems instead of powers and faculties.

When one talks in terms of systems, one is talking about salt drawing water out of the tissues by means of osmosis, whereupon the kidneys attempt to use the extra water to flush out the excess salt through the urine, and so on. With concrete details like this, it becomes blindingly obvious how and why drinking ocean water defeats the purpose (or “violates”, as Skalko would put it) the telos of drinking water. Dehydration, after all, is the opposite of, is contrary to, hydration.

But when one it talking instead in terms of powers, one is in effect spraying a fog of Thomistic jargon over the phenomena, making it more likely that one will miss things such as the dehydrating effect of salt on bodily tissues, or miss the fact that one is not ascribing a telos to an entire system but to a subsystem, or that one is trying to place boundaries where boundaries should not be placed. How does one place boundaries in a fog? Or slice up oatmeal?

If John S. is saying anything intelligible at all, he is trying to place a boundary within the human hydrological system at the point where water and salt enter the bloodstream from the intestines. But this move is egregiously ad hoc. For the only reason to place the boundary there, and not someplace else (say, at the ending/beginning point in the cycle where one accepts/refuses another glass of water) is to be able to say that the telos of drinking has been fulfilled at that point, even though one ends up with less water in the body than before. And the only reason one wants to say that the telos of drinking water has been fulfilled is to avoid facing up to the fact that the standard counterexamples to the orthodox, rigid, Absolutist Natural Law Theory of the Ed Feser (I find the Verbose Stoic’s denial that Feser belongs to this crew a bit unconvincing), John Skalko, Timothy Hsiao, and Christopher Tomaszewski variety … that these counterexamples, I was saying, truly are counterexamples. They have not been defanged. They remain counterexamples.

The fact that the orthodox Natural Lawyers are willing to expose themselves to so much ridicule through their unsuccessful attempts to defang the mirth-provoking counterexamples testifies to the power that their dark, not-entirely wholesome motives have over them. As John Holbo points out in his classic post on Crooked Timber entitled The Steelwool Scrub, they are simply dressing up good-old-fashioned fag-bashing in a quaint and seemingly harmless scholasticism.

It has been known for a while that those who are most virulently homophobic are more likely to exhibit objective measures of same-sex attraction such as increased blood flow to the penis and dilation of the pupils. One after another, the Protestant preachers who try to spread hatred of LGBTQ+ people get caught hiring rent boys to “carry their luggage”. As the author of *The Closet of the Vatican* has documented, the best predictor of whether a priest of Vatican Official is hiring rent boys is how homophobic their public pronouncements are. Those who don’t show much by way of same-sex attraction don’t seem to put much energy into homophobia.

The Thomists in particular have a way of getting the gaydar of some of us pinging; and various factors get my own gaydar pinging like mad whenever John S. opens his mouth. It is not just his Thomism: there is so much that seems … well … defensive about what John S. says. But, of course, for all I know he might be a 0 on the Kinsey scale.

The scholastic Thomism of the Natural Lawyers is perfumed to cover up the original stench of the fag-bashing. But nothing removes that stench, no matter how perfumed the costume is. The ultimate motive of the Natural Lawyers is clearly to scapegoat, not all ostensible violators of Natural Law, but just those people who engage in same-sex intimacy. They do not, after all, try to hound opposite-sex couples — try to deny them jobs or apartments, for example — on the grounds that they may be engaging in some form of non-clerically-approved sex or might be using contraception. Although one is not supposed to say so out loud, these people are, at the very least, complicit in bigotry, if not bigots themselves.

We should never let them forget this, no matter how sophisticated the vocabulary they have acquired.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/03/27/707289059/blech-brain-science-explains-why-youre-not-thirsty-for-salt-water

I began this essay-post by noting in the summary that “[]the telos of drinking water is, well, hydration — getting water into the tissues as needed.” Naturally, I spoke as if I had a way of knowing what that telos is. Fortunately, there is a way of knowing offered by R.G. Millikan’s theory of teleofunctionality.


Things That Natural Lawyers Say (3) — Portals, I Say Portals All Over The Place Edition

Silly Natural Lawyer — don’t you know that an angel in heaven does a facepalm every time you say silly things about portals?

John S., young right-wing-hack-in-training … er … I mean … esteemed Natural Lawyer, tells us that:

The point is if chewing doesn’t have the telos you [claim it has] of supplying nutrients, then chewing for non-nutritive purposes isn’t immoral. But you still think chewing’s natural telos is to supply nutrients? Because it’s a portal to the digestive system? This is very interesting? So, you are claiming any portal to the digestive system must have the same telos as the digestive system? Are you claiming also any portal to any system must have the same telos as that system? 

John S., Comment Made On Facebook. Emphasis mine.

John S. seems to be unclear on the concept of a system comprising subsystems. Consider one system, the car. The carburetor is a subsystem within this system. Mixing fuel with air in a proportion that is appropriate for combustion, the mixture has been prepared for ignition, which, when it occurs in another subsystem of the engine, drives the motion of the pistons. This motion in turn eventually moves the car as a whole as the kinetic energy gets transferred from one subsystem to another.

A real grease monkey will be able, I am sure, to describe each subsystem in much greater detail than I can. But you get the point, Dear Reader. Each subsystem in the total system prepares the way for and makes possible what the next subsystem needs to do. Each subsystem has its own proximate goal (e.g. mixing air and fuel), but the final, remote goal (telos) for each stage is the same: get the car moving. The carburetor mixes air and fuel now so that a few nanoseconds (or whatever) later the car may move. The motion of the car is the ultimate goal, the remote goal, the final goal for what is happening in the carburetor. The motion of the car is the final cause of the carburetor.

The mouth considered as a subsystem of what I will call the energy/nutrition intake system has the proximate telos of breaking down food mechanically through chewing (the stomach will continue this process through its churning) and chemically through saliva (the stomach will further this process through the stomach acids). In fulfilling this proximate goal, the mouth (considered as a component of the energy/nutrition intake system) is furthering its ultimate goal, which I will describe for now as supplying energy/nutrients to the body.

(The reason I am talking about the mouth as a component of the energy/nutrition intake system is that a given organ or organic structure can almost count as different organs depending upon which system it is ensconced in. Notoriously, the penis belongs to a system devoted to sex, but also to a system devoted to excretion. In discussing the telos of the penis, it helps to absolve oneself of the notion there is just a single telos and talk about its differing teloi depending up which system it is a component of. Nota bene: I will be a bit sloppy and not restrict myself to a single term “telos”, but will use “telos”, “goal”, “end”, “final cause” interchangeably. Words will be marked with double quotes; concepts with single quotes.)

Now let’s perform a little thought experiment. John S. has heard of thought experiments, I am sure. From time to time, however, I have quite seriously wondered if he is not a bit unclear on the concept. (See the Nota Bene below for what I think is the appropriate level of snark here.)

Some people in rural areas chew spruce pitch in place of gum. I assume that spruce pitch supplies no calories — not even in the form of sugar alcohols — but even if it does, I am well within my rights as creator of the thought experiment to to stipulate that it contains no calories The teeth and muscles of the mouth perform their normal chewing action. Even the saliva glands go into action. (If spruce pitch doesn’t suffice to do this just imagine lemon-flavored gum. That will be enough to get the juices flowing. Just the imagination suffices, as it does now as I write this.) One has to resist the impulse to swallow from time to time, because the body is treating this as a normal case of eating.

The spruce pitch, of course, does not get broken down by the action of chewing. The physical character of the gum prevents this. I may of course have my own reasons to chew pitch — to prevent boredom, to try to limit my appetite, whatever — but none of these are the “natural” purpose of chewing. So possibly no proximate natural telos of the chewing action (though maybe ‘exercise the chewing muscles counts as a natural local telos — see the next paragraph) can get fulfilled (notice that all that is necessary is that the action be “ordered” to the telos of the organ or organ system involved; but if the pitch can never be broken down by the chewing action, that action is not “ordered” to the mouth’s telos). The mouth qua component of the energy/nutrient-intake system is then a bit like the carburetor that receives helium and water as its raw materials. Neither is able to fulfil its proper function in the system as a whole (the energy/nutrient-intake system; the car). Neither can make its proper contribution to the next component of the system.

The main telos of the carburetor is to deliver to the next subsystem in the sequence of subsystems a product in a form that next subsystem can use. If there were some agent added to the mixture of gasoline and air that, say, helped clean the carburetor clean but had no effect, positive or negative, on the next subsystems down the line, keeping clean would be perhaps a kind of local telos of the carburetor. But this would not be the main telos (perhaps teloi) of the carburetor. Likewise, I think that ‘strengthening the chewing muscles’ could count as a local telos of chewing spruce pitch. But if this exercise makes no difference to the subsystems further down, it cannot count as the main telos (or one of the main teloi) of the mouth considered as a component of — the portal to — the body’s energy/nutrient-intake system.

The telos, end, goal, or function-as-purpose of the energy/nutrient-intake system is well, taking in energy or nutrients. So if zero calories or nutrients get taken in when one is chewing pitch, the energy/nutrient-intake system can never fulfill its telos as long as one does so. The action is “perverse” because one is defeating the purpose of the system by choosing the wrong material to masticate. Because the energy/nutrient intake system cannot fulfill its telos when one is chewing spruce pitch, one is directing that system away from its “natural” purpose in order to fulfil a personal purpose. That system is nonetheless getting “engaged” when one chews pitch, as evidenced by the salivation, the body’s wanting to swallow, the teeth getting engaged as they normally would when eating. I do believe that the followers of Mr. Ed Feser think that for an act to be “perverted” and therefore immoral, the act must first engage a faculty (really, system) and then “pervert” that system away from its “natural” or “designed-by-a-cosmic-creator” end towards another end through an action that is “disordered”, .i.e., that is such that it would be impossible to fulfill the natural end.

Chewing spruce pitch would therefore have to count as immoral. This conclusion is ridiculous. If Natural Law Theory is committed to it, no rational person could take that theory seriously as a guide to morality. There are plenty more counterexamples where this one came from, but it would take just one such to show that Natural Law Theory is absurd. The Natural Lawyers know this, of course, which means there is a certain desperation they show in trying to defang the counterexamples. This desperation leads not only to gaslighting, but also to some rather poor-quality work.

Young John S. thinks he has defanged this particular counterexample to Natural Law Theory (“The point is if chewing doesn’t have the telos you [claim it has] of supplying nutrients, then chewing for non-nutritive purposes isn’t immoral.” ), but he could possibly think this only given his being totally oblivious to the concept of subsystems having, in addition to their own proximate telos, the remote telos of the system of which they are a part.

This is, I think, a fairly obvious point, one that practically anyone could grasp. I am sure that John S. just had a temporary brain fart and is, normally, quite capable of grasping the point. I have to admit though that certain things do give me pause — John S. is, after all, the person who opined that I would not be so pro-gay if I bothered to read the wrappers on sugarless gum. So perhaps John S. needs a little extra help.

So let me make the point again, but this time using portals as an example. John S., after all, seems to have a thing for portals, as when he asks: “Are you claiming also any portal to any system must have the same telos as that system?”

A few examples may help provide an answer. This portal has the proximate telos of letting people into the building and the remote telos of ‘so that people may pray’ — if the building is meant for prayer. But it has the proximate telos of letting people into the building and the remote telos of ‘so that they may buy chicken’ if the building has been converted to a Chick-fil-A location.

One Portal

Ditto for this portal:

Another Portal

Ditto this portal:

Yet another portal

But in this class, John S., you have only three chances to grasp a point. So if you still haven’t grasped it, tough toenails.

Nota Bene: In this series of ‘Things Natural Lawyers Say’ posts, I am of course being a bit snarkier than is perhaps the standard for philosophical discourse. But when my opponent is an anti-Semite, or a racist, or a homophobe whose aim is to turn an entire class of people into scapegoats ala Rene Girard, I do think snark is perfectly justified. The scapegoats have every right to talk back to their oppressors. In those situations in which this is so, “professionalism” only serves oppression. I do not believe in showing any mercy at all to people who are in essence far-right-wing Falangists; and ridicule is my chief means of fighting them.


How To Prevent Your Tools From Rusting: Timothy Hsiao And John Skalko As Failed Grease Monkeys

Grease-Monkey Ethics

A ploy frequently used by the Natural Lawyers to try to defang the mirth-provoking counterexamples to Natural Law Theory is to claim that there is nothing wrong with not using a faculty, just as there is nothing wrong with not using the saw in the toolshed or the car in the garage (!). (Henceforth the “nothing wrong” claim.) The ‘nothing wrong’ claim is used to try to show that, even though it may seem to at first, Natural Law Theory does not in fact make practicing celibacy immoral. (Jeremy Bentham was the first, I believe, to assert that the Natural Lawyer, to be consistent, needs to commit to the hottest flames of hell precisely those priests who are true to their vows.) The same ‘nothing wrong’ claim is made to try to show that wearing earplugs is not immoral.

I show here that the ‘nothing wrong’ assertion does not succeed in defanging the earplug counterexample. The passive character of hearing makes the analogy with the use of tools and cars inappropriate in the case of hearing and the use of ear plugs. What is more, the ‘nothing wrong’ claim is simply false. That the Natural Lawyers rely on it so heavily is a bit of an embarrassment.

What is more, even if we somehow succeeded in regarding hearing not as passive, but — contrary to its phenomenology — as consisting in a series of acts in which the hearing “power” or “faculty” is “engaged” and the hearing organs are used as the “instrument of a “sensitive power”, the tool whose analogy with hearing would be most revealing would not be, say a saw, but a smoke alarm. The purpose of the smoke alarm is to warn me of an unexpected occurrence; the presence of smoke and fire in my building. I may be said to start using a smoke alarm, perhaps, when I install in my apartment, then go about my business relying on it to sound in case there is a fire.

But this is of course a highly strained use of the word “use”, because I am not doing anything with the alarm when I have come to take it so much for granted that I have practically forgotten about it. Using is not a disposition but an act. But let’s accept this strained use of “use” for a moment in the case of both hearing (I discover I can rely on my hearing) and the smoke alarm. I am “using” the alarm by virtue of relying on it, even in cases in which I have 9/10s forgotten I have a smoke alarm.

In the case of the 100 percent effective earplugs, I am choosing, then, to “not use” my faculty of hearing. But by inserting the earplugs, I have also defeated its purpose by disabling it. In this case, not using is disabling. In the case of the smoke alarm, I “not use” (treat “not use” as a verb) this item of equipment when I take out the battery, disabling it. Here not using is also disabling, which means defeating the purpose of the smoke alarm. This case is unlike the (wrong, as I am about to show) picture of the saw as something whose purpose is not (immediately) defeated by simply storing it without using it.

But even if the analogy were useful, there is one little thing amiss with this ploy: the ‘nothing wrong’ claim is simply false.

The Nothing Wrong Claim is simply false: The authors at books.openedition.org state the ‘nothing wrong’ claim this way:

Furthermore there is a difference between using something wrongly and not using it at all. We use a knife wrongly if we try to use it as a violin bow but not by leaving it in the knife drawer. So, not using sexual faculties (celibacy) is morally acceptable for the NLT.

https://books.openedition.org/obp/4430

But on any craftsman ethos in which respect for one’s tools is important, just leaving the knife in the drawer is a misuse of the knife tending towards destruction of the knife. Likewise, just leaving the car in the garage for 14 years will contribute to the rusting of the axles. That the used car salesman happened to be telling the truth when he claimed this car was owned by a little old lady who kept it in the garage for 14 years does not make it any less likely that the badly-rusted axle will suddenly snap in two at the worst-possible moment on the freeway. One needs to use tools in order to keep them functioning. Keeping knives in the drawer or cars in the garage is the ultimate in being louche, so far as grease-monkey ethics go.

“The easiest way to prevent your hand tools and other machines from rusting is using them frequently. When you are using them on a regular basis, the opportunity for dust or moisture to sit on the surface becomes less, thereby decreasing the chances of rusting as well”

https://www.moglix.com/blog/5-ways-to-prevent-your-tools-from-rusting/

One could try (maybe a bit clumsily) to justify the grease-monkey ethos on Natural Law Theory grounds by pointing out that if the Good is to be conceptualized in terms of instruments with teloi (tools, organs), preventing a tool from rusting by using it, using a tool results in a greater amount of good in the world than there otherwise would have been. In encouraging us all to be louche mechanics, Hsiao and Skalko are turning against the very theory they are so eager to espouse.

Likewise, as I am about to show, the only way to prevent ones sperm from “rusting “so that one can lessen the risk of producing non-viable progeny is to make sure one ejaculates only into orifices or onto surfaces or which are absolutely incapable of taking up the sperm and producing a baby.

Priests have been known to assert that all one has to do is look at one’s private parts to see written there “for reproduction (well, and for pissing) and nothing else.” (Needless to say, every red-blooded American looked.) Armed with their microscopes and their knowledge, however, biologists have deciphered a different kind of writing:

According to the Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, sperm produced in nocturnal emissions (and masturbation) tends to be “older and less competitive, and .. noncopulatory ejaculations increase the number of younger, highly-competitive sperm ejaculated at the next copulation.” Another possible benefit is that nocturnal emissions stimulate the involved muscles and hydraulic structures, providing them a sort of “workout”

Gunther Laird, THE UNNECESSARY SCIENCE A Critical Analysis Of Natural Law Theory, (Onus Books, 2020), pp. 124 – 125.

My training is not in biology, but I will go out on a limb nonetheless and assert that males with healthier, more competitive sperm will be more more likely to pass their genes along and produce healthier offspring (who in turn will be more likely to pass their genes along).

Elsewhere, I have discussed the “teleofunctional principle. Based on Ruth Garrett Millikan’s work in the philosophy of biology and of language, the teleofunctional principle is the idea (link to come) that any selective advantage e (camouflage effect, for example) that a trait or action t (the trait of darker coloration; a deer’s action of fleeing upon the slightest hint of danger) conferred upon a member of a reproductively-established family ref (the English peppered moths on this particular tree or whatever) suffices to make e the proper functional purpose or telos of t in ref. At least for now, I am using “proper functional purpose” and “telos” interchangeably.

This is certainly so in the teleofunctionality arena; but, as we have seen, any “Intelligent Design” theory that accepts evolution that is at all plausible must accept this as a sufficient condition as well for making e the telos of t. If the “Designer” God chose to accept (She could presumably have asked nature to come up with a different solution to the problem, having chosen not to accept this one) the evolution of darker coloration for peppered moths as a means of camouflage, then camouflage is the telos of that coloration in the particular environment the peppered moth finds itself in.

Establishing that e is present in an ref would, on any Intelligent Design Theory that is not too way out there, relieve us of the necessity of trying to guess what the Designer must have had in mind. So both teleofunctionality and design theory would have to ascribe an end, a function, a purpose to about everything proscribed by the orthodox natural lawyer: same-sex male sexual activity, masturbation, contraceptive medications, and blocking contraceptive devices such as condoms. Contraception could be required of her male partner by a person of the XX persuasion in order to make a good outcome more likely when contraception is not used.

Even if blocking a natural end, a telos, were always bad, the aforementioned activities are not blocking cases. Nature or God intended the penis to be constantly dripping. Indeed, if one holds that making babies must be the ultimate goal of sex, one would be committing an action both bad and immoral were he to block the natural removal of old sperm, say, by taking a drug to prevent wet dreams, or by being too rigid in refusing to masturbate. For the removal of old sperm would be a sub-goal working in favor of the ultimate goal.

But maybe making babies is not the sole ultimate goal of sex after all. Laird’s example shows rather plainly that actions can have unsuspected teloi of their own. I mean who knew that masturbation had a place in God’s or Nature’s plan? Which means, of course, that one is not in a position to say that a given telos of, say, a given sexual act is always subordinate to a telos that we think we have already identified. Several acts of same-sex sexual activity may render one’s sperm better suited for what the Natural Lawyer claims to know is the one, ultimate end of sexual activity (making babies) and therefore may be considered as having non-ultimate, subordinate ends — but our Natural Lawyer is still in no position to claim to know that these same-sex sexual acts do not have another, equiprimordial telos of their own.

Spoiler alert: they do. Check out this journal article, for example, which articulates how homosexuality advances pro-sociality, for example.

Another possible example, though not one explored by that article, is the possibility that people in the Kinsey 6 cohort (completely gay) facilitate the increase in the genes of their relatives by taking on some of their relatives’ child-rearing responsibilities. Although this does not seem to happen a lot in more Westernized countries that have an individualistic outlook, it does appear to happen frequently in more communitarian societies such as Samoa. The impression I have gotten is that it also happens a lot in the Philippines, a country in which one seems to get pushed into adopting stereotypically feminine roles if one is gay. (In the West one tends to get pushed into adopting more stereotypically masculine attitudes and roles). Here the “contraceptive” effect of same-sex is a selective advantage. For biological children of one’s own would usually take priority and remove time and attention from the children of one’s relatives, lessening their chances of survival. On this theory, the result of the selective advantage lies not with making babies who have half one one’s genes, but with an increase in the frequency of particular gene tokens whose types one shares with one’s relatives. Something similar seems to be going on in the case of honeybees. The biologist and the geneticist, of course, have the final say in these matters.

Although this one hypothesis would not account completely, if I am not mistakenly informed by those who crunch the numbers, for the prevalence of homosexuality among human beings, the other factors mentioned in the article cited above and in the book *NOT COMPLETELY STRAIGHT* surely take up the slack — enough so to make one wonder why everyone isn’t gay.

*********

A real grease monkey would relate to Messrs. Timothy Hsiao and John Skalko everything that is in this article. Flo, a real grease monkey could only shake her head sadly were these gentlemen to repeat their claim that there is nothing wrong in not using a tool. She could only conclude that they are failed grease monkeys who acquired unfortunate philosophical proclivities in order to compensate for their miserable failure in the garage. Where did these people come from?!! the real grease monkey might exclaim. Wherever it is, send them back there!


The Mirth-Provoking Counterexamples To Natural Law Theory: Using Earplugs

Rough Draft. Do not cite:

In an attempt to defang the ‘this would make using earplugs immoral’ counterexample to Natural Law Theory, the Natural Lawyer Timothy Hsiao offers the following:

Now since the PFA is concerned with the misuse of a faculty, the faculty must first be used. It therefore will not do to object to this argument (as some do) on the grounds that using earplugs or holding one’s breath count as perverted actions.21 In neither of these cases is a faculty being engaged toward some inappropriate end. It is not immoral to refrain from engaging a faculty….

Timothy Hsiao, *Consenting Adults, Sex, And Natural Law Theory*, Philosophia, p.13, pdf available at timhsiao.org. Henceforth Hsiao CASANLT.

The PFA is, of course, the “Perverted Faculty Argument. The Perverted Faculty Argument trades heavily on an analogy of human faculties with tools. Tools, such as a saw or a toaster, have “ends” designed into them. A saw is supposed to cut things; a toaster is supposed to convert fresh bread into toast. Likewise, the faculty of reproduction is supposed to make babies; the faculty of vision is supposed to see things; the faculty of hearing is supposed to hear things.1

A tool, of course, can be misused. I can use a toaster, for example, not according to its proper function, toasting bread, but as a rather clunky paper weight. (Skalko would say that when I use the toaster thus, it is a paper weight, though maybe not the most elegant one.) In using the toaster as a paper weight, I am diverting it from its proper function, what it was designed to do and what is normally its smoothest, most efficient use. Or, to use a more extreme example, I am diverting a sledgehammer from its proper function and purpose when I attempt to use it to tap in a tiny delicate nail in my wire glasses. The Army Corps of Engineers attempts to force the Mississippi River in Louisiana to continue its present course towards New Orleans. The river “wants” to jump to a course heading further west, and this would be its natural course; but the Corps is in effect forcefully “diverting” it, i.e. “perverting” it into its current not-totally-stable course.

Hsiao thinks our faculties have ends, purposes, goals, teloi (henceforth just “ends”) even though they lack intentionality. For example, the reproductive faculty has as its end making a baby. In attempting to fulfil this end, Skalko claims, this faculty “uses” various organs such as the penis. Skalko says that the “reproductive power” uses the penis as its “instrument”, “organ” being derived from the Greek word for “instrument”. [Editor here: Please verify that Hsiao indeed talks this way as well.] In addition to faculties or powers “using” organs, human beings also use organs to instigate actions attempting to accomplish particular ends. These get represented in intentional states as “plans of action”, and the ends get represented as goals. One may have the intention, for example, of using his penis and related organs to try to make a baby. An action is moral, Hsiao thinks, when the natural end and the intentional end are identical.

The PFA holds that every intentional action that engages some natural faculty F must be aimed towards some end G that is by nature able to realize the natural end of F. We can speak of every intentional action as having two ends.19 First, there is the end towards which the acting person actually aims. This is derived from the agent’s intention, since his intention is his plan of action. Second, there is the end towards which the action should be aiming at. This is derived from the function of the faculty that is being engaged. An action is good when these two components aim at the same thing, and bad when they diverge.

Hsiao CASANLT, p. 12

This is of course a rather simplistic statement of Natural Law Theory. I don’t think I need to point out that it leaves itself open to a large number of counterexamples, including the standard mirth-provoking counterexamples. This at least apparent vulnerability to counterexample surprises me a bit, since I would assume that Mr. Hsiao is aware of this vulnerability. Throughout my essay posts (this one as well as later ones) on Natural Law Theory, I will be referring to this statement of Natural Law Theory as the Identity Thesis, or Version 0 of the theory.

A more robust statement of Natural Law Theory would distinguish between intentional ends that are merely different from the corresponding natural ends and those whose accomplishment defeat the purpose of the natural process. I will use the concept ‘defeat the purpose’ as a primitive, making no attempt to delve into the mechanics of that concept. I take it to be a clearer (at least to me) articulation of Feser’s “contrary to” than Skalko’s attempt to understand ‘contrary to’ in terms of Aristotlean “contraries”.

Now back to Hsiao’s defense of his version of Natural Law Theory against one of the standard counterexamples, the ‘this would make inserting earplugs into one’s ears immoral’ counterexample. “It is not immoral to refrain from engaging a faculty….”, implying that to insert ear plugs into one’s ear is to refrain from engaging the faculty of hearing. Now I usually think of the act or quasi-act of refraining from doing something (say, addressing someone as “you noxious aggressive not-hugely-bright pimply-faced adolescent pipsqueak”) as having a bit of a lighter touch than shoving wax up my ear canals, but whatever. I will go with it for the nonce. When I am refraining from engaging my faculty of hearing, I am not using that faculty, Hsiao argues. But I have to be using that faculty in order to “turn” it to a use that is inappropriate for what it is designed to do, for the end that it is supposed to (try to) accomplish. So when I am wearing earplugs, not only am I not perverting the faculty of hearing; it is impossible for me to do so.

One obvious problem with Hsiao’s line of reasoning is that this particular directional metaphor, “perverting”, is not terribly applicable to actions that he and his fellow Thomists would want to count as immoral because “perversely inappropriate”. I think the Thomist would be better served thinking in terms of intentional actions whose ends, when accomplished, would defeat the purpose of the non-intentional, or “natural” processes. Not all of these cases lend themselves to an analysis using directional metaphors. I am about to show that hearing is one of these cases.

In an attempt to defang the ‘this would make using earplugs immoral’ counterexample to “Natural Law theory, the Natural Lawyer John Skalko offers the following. Skalko’s offering is virtually the same as Hsiao’s, but it does introduce an interesting ambiguity. By following up on this ambiguity, we will see both why the perversion metaphor is not appropriate in the case of hearing, and why the Natural Lawyer remains committed nonetheless to the silly claim that wearing earplugs is immoral.

Engaging in an action not ordered towards its natural end is not the same as preventing a natural process from happening. In using earplugs one is not engaging [in?] the action of hearing and then also failing to order this act of hearing to its natural end. Rather, in using earplugs one is simply preventing the activity of hearing from occurring. … The natural end of an action is its due end, but this does not mean that the act in question must always be performed.

John Skalko, DISORDERED ACTIONS A Moral Analysis Of Lying And Homosexual Activity (Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, 2019), pp. 225-226. Emphasis mine.

Hearing is an “action” one engages in. It is an act one “performs”. When one has inserted earplugs into their ears, one is not performing the action of hearing. So one cannot “order” this action to an end that is not its “natural end” or “due end”, the way one can “order” one’s reproductive organ by inserting into an orifice that is not clerically approved. Voila! The earplug counterexample is resolved! Like Hsiao, Skalko seems to think it is impossible to “pervert” the faculty of hearing using earplugs. We are therefore not forced to regard inserting earplugs as an immoral action.

But Skalko is simply confused. For he also slips in concepts that are difficult to reconcile with acts, actions, and even activities. Hearing, Skalko says, is a “natural process”, like the flow of water. (This is perhaps analogous to the flow of sound waves through the ear canal.) A stream does not “perform” its water flow. The occurrence of water flowing downhill can be prevented by a dam, in this way preventing this happening. In other words, “occurrence” and “happening” tend to find their home in “natural”, non-intentional phenomena. These events are not acts because an actor is missing — missing, that is, unless we choose to use metaphor to describe the process, as in “the gulf stream carried the boat to Europe”. It is more literal to depict the boat as being carried — passive voice — to Europe on the Gulf Stream. As I am about to show, these concepts which avoid construing hearing as an act or a performance or (to mention Hsiao again) a use are truer to the phenomena of hearing.

Unlike actions, like starting a car, or an activity like mowing the lawn, a happening or an occurrence do not necessarily suggest an actor. So when Skalko slips in the words “happening” and “occurrence”, as he does in the passage above, it is as if he is aware of trouble ahead. Is hearing an act, action, or activity; or is it an occurrence or happening? It is a bit weird, though not absolutely unintelligible, to describe a Jones-mowing the lawn occurrence, or a Jone’s starting the car occurrence, or a Jones act-of-murder occurrence. Even though an occurrence typically does not have an actor “doing” the occurrence, nothing prevents one from mentally eliminating the actor and turning, at least mentally, the act/action/activity into an occurrence. Still, if one suddenly shifts from talking about hearing as an action one performs to an occurrence or a happening, there is certainly a bad smell (as one may say of bad code). It is as if Skalko cannot quite make up his mind because his thinking is not completely lucid in the first place.

[[[Suppose that, as both the author of *Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask* and Mr. Skalko seem to think [this is perhaps uncharitable as regards Mr. Skalko of course] that the end of the penis– at least when it is not in its pissing mood — is insertion into a vagina with the aim of making a baby. One is directing the penis away form this, its natural end, when he uses it as a hand-lotion generator. This change in “direction” is the metaphor. But in using earplugs, one is not directing the “action” of hearing towards another target. This just means that the metaphor used by the Natural Lawyer is not appropriate for this particular application, not that the use of earplugs is not “contrary to” (in the sense of defeating the purpose of) hearing. ]]]

One is not going from a state of “performing” hearing to a state of “refraining from performing the act of hearing” because there was no use, act, or performance of hearing in the first place. It is here — when one tries to state what the “refraining” consists in — that the egregious fuzziness, the dispiriting mediocrity of Hsiao’s and Skalko’s thinking comes to the fore.

Both Mr. Hsiao and Mr. Skalko failed to examine in even a semi-serious way the phenomenology of hearing. Not bothering with the phenomenon itself, Hsiao and Skalko attempt to force hearing into a conceptual straitjacket of ‘acts’, ‘actions’, ‘activities’ and ‘use’ which does gross violence to that phenomenon.

For hearing does not comprise a series of acts of hearing. It is, rather, overwhelmingly passive. One does not engage in acts of hearing that engage a “power”; rather, hearing is a “power” that engages one. When one engages in an act, they represent what will “complete the act: turning the lights off; casting a ballot, slugging (to use John Searle’s rather violent example) someone; reading the wrapper of a piece of sugarless gum. Acts are associated with conditions of satisfaction projected into the (normally near) future. There is an element of expectation to an act.

But the sound of the gun going off in the woods, or a couple blocks away from my apartment, seizes my attention without my expecting any such thing the nanosecond before. That is the whole point of hearing – to seize my attention without my expecting, and therefore without my doing anything. As Schopenhauer remarks, hearing is based on a “passive” principle (World as Will and Presentation, 2nd volume, p. 34). Nor will the passive constitution of a phenomenon such as the sound of a gunshot be a surprise to readers of Merleau-Ponty and Aron Gurwitsch.

I rely on my hearing to alert me to possible danger without my expecting or doing anything, or (as Eric DeJardin points out) expending any effort at all. But since using something means that I am engaging in an act, my relying on my hearing this way means that I am not using my hearing. The requisite relation between act and thing acted upon is lacking.

Listening to or for something is of course different from hearing simpliciter, though these of course would be pointless without the ability to hear. Unlike hearing, listening is an act. To listen is to engage in an act of bringing a sounding item into focus to try to pick up or identify the presence of something, or to describe its characteristics. On listens intently to diagnose a car problem. To ascertain whether one’s non-Italian brother-in-law pronounced the Italian brew correctly as “espresso”, not “expresso”. In effect, then, to construe hearing as comprising acts of hearing is to confuse hearing with listening. It is to commit a gross phenomenological blunder.

Now since using something means that I am engaging in an act, my relying on my hearing this way means that I am not using my hearing to pick up, for example, the sound of gunfire in the woods. The requisite relation between act and thing acted upon is lacking. When I use a saw to cut into a piece of wood, for example, I am engaging in the action of sawing a piece of wood. Use implies action. So if there is no action, there is no use. The gunfire sound just shows up all of a sudden, without my doing anything (i.e., without my performing any action), without my making any effort, for example, to turn my body and my attention to a particular direction beforehand. Neither am I engaging my faculty of hearing in any way to make it show up.

Natural Lawyers, of course, are constantly trying to force-fit that dynamics of bodily systems such as hearing into a conceptual schema of tools that get used in particular acts. The good eye is one that sees well (!) and the bad eye is one that does not see well (!), just as the good saw is one that saws well and the bad saw is one that does not saw well. Given that Mr. Skalko is naive enough to tell us that the “power” of reproduction finds its home in the penis, he would apparently want to claim that the good penis is one that both pisses well and reproduces well. Reproducing (as well as pissing — but let’s stick to reproducing in this post) is the end, telos, or function of the penis.

On this account of “perverting” it would seem to make sense that one has to be using a “facility” such as hearing and turning it from its natural end before one can be said to “pervert” that facility. As a Facebook user says: performing

He [Feser] says that you have to be using a human faculty, and you have to be doing so in a way contrary to its natural end, rather than merely other than its natural end [in order to have a counterexample to the perverted faculty argument]

Facebook User

But all this means is that the metaphor of ‘turning to an unnatural use’ is the wrong one to apply to hearing. While it is never the case that hearing is used and then turned to an unnatural end, one definitely can defeat the purpose of hearing. And if any sense at all can be attached to Skalko’s “violating a human function”, this might be an instance of that in the case of hearing. If, as Skalko claims, violating a human function is always wrong, i.e., immoral when performed as a voluntary act, he would need to count inserting earplugs as immoral.

And how might one defeat the purpose of hearing? By wearing earplugs, of course! The normal earplug definitely goes in the direction of defeating the purpose of hearing and actually does so in particular cases. And the ideal set of earplugs, by removing any aural contact between me and the world, would defeat the purpose of hearing completely.

Let’s look one more time at the purpose of hearing.

[[[[The mutual entanglement of the various bodily systems perhaps renders talk of discrete powers unintelligible. ]]]]

The problem here is that both Feser and Skalko have gotten entranced by a metaphor, turning, that is ill suited for the faculty of hearing. There is another way of conceiving the idea that a faculty gets perverted, and this is by way of saying that actions are being taken that defeat or go in the direction of defeating the purpose of the faculty. And what is the purpose of hearing?

If I may be permitted to venture a guess, the main natural end of hearing would appear to be to alert one to danger in one’s surroundings: the gunshot in the woods, the rattling of the copperhead. This alerting would be the selective advantage of an organisms having hearing, and according the the teleofunctionality principle stumbled upon by the Verbose Stoic, this alerting would be what hearing is for. This claim is of course tentative; its final resolution will depend upon the science. If it stands, to “pervert” hearing would be to defeat that purpose.

So what intentional acton would dereat the purpose of hearing? Well, to the extent that they actually worked, earplugs and earphones.

Incompletely Effective Ear Plugs: Now speaking for myself, I have never encountered any earplugs or earphones that completely cut me off aurally from my surroundings, much as I would rather not hear the secretary next to me screaming over the phone at her 13-year-old son: “NO JUSTIN YOU ARE NOT GOING TO THAT PARTY TONIGHT!” or to the software engineer behind me discussing over the phone possible ways of keeping a wayward relative out of jail. I mean, the latter does have its Soap Opera Entertainment value, but I really need to attend to the work they are paying me for.

So if one insists on interpreting hearing in terms of ‘action’ and ‘use’, one is still engaged in “acts” of “hearing” which one “uses” to avoid getting completely cut off aural-wise from their surroundings.

Now if you, Dear Reader, feel a certain awkwardness in the use of “acts” and “uses in the preceding sentence, I encourage you to hold onto that uncomfortable feeling for the next few paragraphs.

If I may be permitted to stick for the moment to the interpretation of hearing as comprising acts which have a use, then, I would like to point out that inserting ear plugs that are effective enough to turn everything, including gunshots and copperhead rattlings into a soft low murmuring, would clearly defeat the purpose of hearing. So if anything is a “contrary” use of hearing, this would be it. Indeed, as Skalko reminds us, every violation of a natural human functions is bad. This he takes to be the core of Aquinas’ argument against the morality of lying and of homosexuality::

Aquinas’s argument against lying and homosexual acts are similar insofar as both arguments have similar premises:

1) Violating a natural human function is always bad.

2) The function of speech is for conveying what is on one’s mind and the function of the sexual organs is for the generation and education of offspring.

3) Thus, violating the natural function of speech by using it for lying or of the sexual organs by using them for ungenerative ends is always bad.

Skalko, DISORDERED ACTIONS A Moral Analysis Of Lying And Homosexual Activity (Neunkirchen-Seelscheid, 2019), pp. 19-20. Emphasis mine.

And if anything violates the natural purpose of hearing, it would be turning the gunshot sounds produced by a mass killer into a pleasant murmuring. Even earplugs that are not effective enough to turn gunshots into a pleasant murmuring would still be working against the purpose of hearing. So at least given the interpretation of hearing that takes it to comprise acts and uses, Natural Law Theory would have to count using ear plugs as an immoral action.

Completely Effective Ear Plugs: Now let me start a though experiment in which — Amazing! — one does find earplugs that really do block all noise from one’s surroundings. One could be, according to Skalko, choosing not to use one’s hearing at all. And there is nothing wrong with that, allegedly, just as there is nothing wrong which choosing not to use a particular saw in the workshop. Not using a tool is not the same as misusing that tool.

Of course, there is the peculiarity that one wasn’t using one’s hearing in the first place, even before inserting the earplugs. One wasn’t using one’s hearing because hearing is passive through and through, as Schopenhauer notes, and using is an action. So by using the earplugs, one is not choosing to not use hearing at all as opposed to using hearing. Choice requires a difference between the candidates of choice: this apple or this pear. One was not choosing not to use the saw because one was never able to use the saw in the first place. So the ‘there is nothing wrong with choosing not to use one’s hearing’ ploy is not going to work here. It is conceptually confused.

The tools in the workshop metaphor does not work very well when trying to conceptualize “faculties” such as hearing. The Thomist theory of action starts from a notion of “powers” that is rather dubious in the first place, given that they get demarcated from one another in a rather ad hoc way that is wide open to argumentative abuse of the question-begging sort. These powers, when “engaged” by a person, are supposed to use this or that organ or set of organs as “instruments”. (Apparently “organ” and “instrument” are etymologically related to one another.) At least in the case of hearing, however, this picture is completely off-base. If one is going to speak of “powers” it would be more appropriate to speak of a power seizing one, stopping one’s thoughts, clearing out everything that was previously contained within one’s skull, calling one to gird their loins to face or flee from danger.

What one is doing, instead of choosing not to use the faculty of hearing, is disabling that faculty altogether. Since hearing was never an act at all, much less one that is an act of using, one is not choosing to not use hearing at all when inserting the ear plugs. One is choosing to disable the faculty altogether. It is as if one had disabled a smoke alarm by taking out the battery. Just as I defeat the purpose of the smoke alarm by doing this, I defeat the proper functional purpose of my hearing when I use the miraculously effective ear plugs. And since the end or purpose defines the nature of a faculty, I am “going against nature” by inserting ear plugs – the more so the more effective the plugs are.

Some of the Natural Lawyers on whom I have tested these claims insist that, nonetheless, one has to be “using” the faculty of hearing somehow, or engaging that “power”. Maybe one is just doing so unconsciously. I think the motivation for this is that in the back of their minds they are thinking that without the voluntary nature of an action, of a use, we can’t attribute the sinfulness to the action if it does somehow get “perverted”. If this is the motivation, however, I do think it is confused. There is no immorality caused by voluntarily beginning to use hearing then turning this faculty to an end that is not its natural end. For there is no beginning to use the faculty, even unconsciously. But there is the voluntary nature of inserting the ear plugs into the ears. That would suffice to render immoral according to Natural Law Theory the dismantling one’s hearing as a means of letting the world in.

Just as disabling a smoke alarm is morally dubious at best, there are obviously many cases in which obviously using the miraculous ear plugs — or any ear plugs — would be immoral. For example in the case in which one is uncertain when deer hunting season is supposed to start and the woods will soon be infested by less-than-totally competent magats.

But the point is that Natural Law Theory must condemn wearing ear plugs as immoral, whereas, in fact, there are cases in which it is moral. (One is in a safe neighborhood, for example.) The morality/immorality of using ear plugs does not hinge on whether a natural functional purpose is getting fulfilled or defeated. It hinges on things such as whether one has exercised due diligence in ascertaining for example, the risk of noise in damaging one’s hearing, or of the safety of the woods one is camping in or the neighborhood one resides in. Natural Law Theory seriously misses the mark by harping on the telos of a faculty, the idea that “good” is to be interpreted solely in terms of functionality. (The “good heart” is one that pumps blood well.) There is clearly more to morality than that.

That Natural Law must condemn ear plugs as immoral (remember, Skalko says that “violating” a natural human function is always bad) is ridiculous, and by itself justifies dismissing Natural Law Theory. The laughter arising from the mirth-provoking counter-examples — or at least from this particular one — is more than justified.

We have seen above that a ploy frequently used by the Natural Lawyers to try to defang the mirth-provoking counterexamples is the notion that there is nothing wrong with not using a faculty, just as there is nothing wrong with not using the saw in the toolshed or the car in the garage. (Henceforth the “nothing wrong” claim.) We have just seen that the passive character of hearing makes the analogy with tools and cars inappropriate in the case of hearing and the use of ear plugs.

Given that just one of the standard counterexamples needs to go through for Natural Law Theory to be discredited completely, it is a serious error on the part of Hsiao and Skalko to be so lackadaisical with the ear plug example. They may as well have phoned the phenomenology of hearing in. On Hsiao’s part, this same carelessness is reflected in his stating Natural Law Theory as an identity thesis between the natural ends of a faculty and the ends presented in the intentionality of the corresponding human act.

Young Natural Lawyer Preparing To “Not Use” The Faculty Of Hearing

There Is Nothing Wrong With Not Using A Tool Or Faculty

1 This sounds a little weird, but this is how the Natural Lawyers talk. The good eye is one that sees well, etc.

Lumberoom: Odds and ends that will eventually be incorporated into the main essay

Now since the PFA is concerned with the misuse of a faculty, the faculty must first be
used. It therefore will not do to object to this argument (as some do) on the grounds that
using earplugs or holding one’s breath count as perverted actions.21 In neither of these
cases is a faculty being engaged toward some inappropriate end. It is not immoral to
refrain from engaging a faculty….

Timothy Hsiao, *Consenting Adults, Sex, And Natural Law Theory, Philosophia, p.13, pdf available at timhsiao.org.

nterexample to the perverted faculty argument. If I am not mistaken, both Hsiao and Skalko try to argue that, just as “there is nothing wrong” with not using a tool, and that therefore there is nothing wrong with a priest being celibate, there is nothing wrong with choosing not to use one’s faculty of hearing.

Indeed, the Thomists seem to rely rather heavily on the “there is nothing wrong with not using a tool or a faculty” as a means of defanging the usual mirth-provoking counterexamples to Natural Law Theory. But this move seems so silly to me, since by inserting earplugs one isn’t just choosing not to hear just as one may choose not to use a saw whose blade remains sharp throughout the period of non-use and whose purpose is not defeated by the non-use. Rather, one is defeating – I guess I will say violating – the whole purpose of hearing, just as disabling (for a period – until one puts the battery back in) the smoke alarm is not simply a matter of choosing not to use the smoke alarm for that period of time, but a matter of defeating the entire point of the smoke alarm.

But this concept of “defeating the purpose of” pretty much does yeoman’s work in explicating ‘contrary to the purpose of’. This lets us distinguish between uses merely not identical with the natural purpose (see Hsiao’s articulation of PFA above) from uses that are both not identical with and “contrary to” to the natural purpose. Because they defeat the purpose of hearing, the 100-percent effective ear plugs would have to count as immoral according to Natural Law Theory. Two points: first, Hsiao’s and Skokal’s statements of the Perverted Faculty Argument are inadequate because they rely on a bad metaphor. Second, the notion that the earplugs would be immoral is ridiculous, and suffices to justify dismissing Natural Law Theory.

If anything counts as “violating” a natural human function, rendering an organ incapable of fulfilling that function would have to be it.

So yes, using earplugs would have to count as an immoral or evil action according to Natural Law Theory. This is ridiculous, and would mean (as the Verbose Stoic puts it) that Natural Law Theory cannot be taken seriously as a guide to morality. Using earplugs therefore constitutes a counterexample to Natural Law Theory.

[[[How does one “use” the faculty of hearing? We simply hear; no effort is involved except in very particular circumstances. Consider that often we hear the most important things without actively listening for them, e.g. an approaching vehicle. And even when we do exert effort in hearing somehting, the effort isn’t generally to *hear* (can you hear or listen harder?), but to *focus*, which, presumably, involves a different faculty. However, if one wears earplugs while sleeping one may indeed fail to hear things that, if happiness is one’s end, one would want to hear, e.g. the steps of a thief or vandal. So it appears that a case can indeed be made that wearing earplugs is immoral on NL grounds.

Anyway, another problem with this whole “the aim of the ears is to hear” talk is that *my ears* don’t hear a thing; rather, *I* hear, and I am not my ears (though I use my ears in some loose sense, of course, and so we can say, metaphorically, that my ears hear). So to me, the talk of faculties gets things wrong from the very start.]]]]]]

Guy Jackson “You don’t have to *consciously* use a faculty to use it.”

I am never aware of “using” the faculty of hearing when, unexpectedly, I hear the gunshot in the woods. (Is it deer season already?) It seems rather that, rather than my engaging the faculty of hearing, that faculty engages me.

But of course, I may be unconsciously using the faculty of hearing, just as the sleepwalker may be unconsciously using a pan when he is cooking lasagna while sleepwalking. (Bizarre things like this happen during sleepwalking, apparently. People have been known to drive in this state.) Suppose I am using the faculty of hearing, just unconsciously. In that case, I am defeating the purpose of that faculty when I insert the earplugs. I may have a good personal reason to insert the earplugs (I want to attend to my work, which I cannot do when the secretary next to me is screaming on the phone to her 13-year-old son) “NO JUSTIN, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO THAT PARTY TONIGHT!!!!!!!” If fulfilled, this purpose would prevent my attention from getting hijacked. But the faculty of hearing has its own purpose, and it could not care less about my work. And I work against, even defeat that purpose, when I insert the ear plugs and convert the loud noxious intrusions into a soft peaceful distant murmur. This, on your account, is a USE of my hearing, though it is not a “natural” use.

So we have all the elements of perversion here given Feser’s (dubious in my view) definition: a natural use that is defeated, thwarted, frustrated – let’s go all the way and say VIOLATED!!!! – by my personal use. All that is lacking is my wearing a trench coat and going up to people and whispering: “Pssst – want some ear plugs”?

My ears and the rest of my hearing system is for alerting me to potential threats which can arise anywhere and anytime in my surroundings. This alerting is quite involuntary, since I cannot “shut my ears” the way I can shut my eyes to avoid, for example, seeing the train wreck that is about to happen. Sound, especially sound of the sharply penetrating kind such as the gun going off nearby in the woods or a quarter mile away where gang violence is starting to become a problem or lightning striking within an eighth of a mile (but I always fear potential human violence more), has an intrusive quality that respects no personal boundaries. The natural purpose of my hearing is, I daresay, to ensure sounds like this get through even when, within the otherwise comfy confines of my thick cranium, I would really rather attend to Natural Law Theory. Should I ever find earplugs that reduce every noxiously intrusive sound in my surroundings to a pleasing murmur, and use them, I would be acting immorally, since by nature my hearing is for ensuring that such sounds do penetrate. These earplugs defeat the natural functional purpose of hearing, and result in the faculty of hearing doing the opposite of what it is supposed to do. The opposite of x is never identical with x. Therefore, inserting earplugs like this would be an evil, immoral action. This consequence is of course ridiculous, and suffices by itself to justify dismissing the Strictly Binary Absolutist Natural Law Theory.

(Since I am still in the rough draft phase of his essay post, Dear Reader, I would like to note that I have just introduced the convention of italicizing those words for which I have not yet adequately explained. The explanation is still TBD.)

Normal earplugs of course are not as efficacious. They are not a terribly effective barrier against the sound-wave tsunami emanating from the secretary in an open cubicle next to mine screaming at her 13-year-old son “NO — YOU ARE NOT GOING TO THAT PARTY!!!” and hijacking my attention from the database problem before me Or the software engineer in the row behind me discussing in very clear non-murmuring tones ways of possibly keeping a relative out of jail. Even apart from the bright clear aural trones,, her words capture my attention through their sheer value as melodramatic Soap Opera.

But even in their case, they may be said (at least informally) to be “going against” or acting “contrary to” the natural functional purpose of hearing, making it less likely I will respond adequately to threats in my surroundings — say, a gunman in the building. Threats that could come anytime and at anyplace in those surroundings. Were my earplugs just good enough to cause the gunshot sound to not stand out from the ambient sounds of the office, and just good enough to cause me not to correctly decipher what my colleague (who is frantically trying to warn me) is trying to tell me, so that instead of acting appropriately (leave the building quickly, and do not take the elevator!), I smile idiotically at her instead …. Were my earplugs just good enough for these things, my use of my hearing faculty (as much as possible have only those sounds come in that do not hijack my attention and carry it away from my work would not be identical with what is plausibly the natural functional purpose of my hearing, namely, getting me to respond appropriately to a threat.

Therefore the Strictly Binary Absolutist Version of Natural Law Theory would have to count wearing normal ear plugs as evil and immoral, not just the probably mythical super-efficient ear plugs described above. (I at least have never encountered any that good.) Limiting the sounds that are capable of hijacking my attention to only the very loudest is not identical with allowing in all sounds that could hijack my attention, subject only to the limitations of the equipment I was born with. The point of hearing, after all, is to cope with unpredictability in time and place (within one’s surroundings) of threats.

In other words, just hindering a natural function puts an act on the evil side. The sperm catcher apparently blessed by the hierarchy hinders the progression of sperm, and that should be enough to put the device on the evil side. Lack of really getting clear about the foundations.

The natural functional purpose of hearing could not care less what stress I undergo from loud, intrusive sounds about which I am not able to do anything.

[[Suppose that, as both the author of *Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask* and Mr. Skalko seem to think [this is perhaps uncharitable as regards Mr. Skalko of course] that the end of the penis– at least when it is not in its pissing mood — is insertion into a vagina with the aim of making a baby. One is directing the penis away form this, its natural end, when he uses it as a hand-lotion generator. This change in “direction” is the metaphor. But in using earplugs, one is not directing the “action” of hearing towards another target.]]]

[[[As the Natural Lawyers constantly reiterate, just as there is nothing wrong with not using a tool — say, the saw kept in the woodshed — there is nothing wrong with not using a faculty. Well, okay then. Earplugs are in the clear.]]]

[[[Ambiguity. One is not going from a state of not using hearing to a state of “refraining from performing the act of hearing” because there was no use or act of hearing in the first place.]]]]


Things That Natural Lawyers Say (2): Gum Wrapper Edition

Mr. John S., Young Right-Wing Natural Lawyer In Training, told me a few days ago that I would not be so pro-gay…

“…if you actually read the nutritional details [on gum wrappers] instead of naively parroting what the pro-gay crowd says.”

This statement becomes only slightly less bizarre when put in its original context. That context is a rather silly claim made in the context of Natural Law Theory by John Skalko about chewing sugarless gum. This was a claim to the effect of ‘sugarless gum has a few calories, so chewing it is moral in Natural Law Theory’.

So I will keep John S’s advice in mind. If I read the nutritional details on the packets of sugarless gum, I will be able to avoid naively parroting what the pro-gay crowd says. I never knew that reading gum wrappers offered such powerful protection against falling in with the wrong crowd. This will help a lot. Thank you for the advice, John S.

Really, seeing the Natural Lawyers twist themselves into pretzels like this is almost painful. I keep wanting to tell them: “It’s okay. No one cares where on the Kinsey Scale you fall whether you are a 1, a 2, a 3, a 4, a 5, or even a Gold Star 6. Really — no one cares. You really don’t have to work yourself into a frenzy over your same-sex desires, with the result that you frequently end up saying silly things.”

Silly Natural Lawyer — don’t you know that an angel in heaven does a face palm every time you say something silly like this?


Mr. Paul Manata Was Not Pleased

After an author of a Facebook page asserted that, although he regretted “…the exclusive use of words such as “man,” “him,” and “he,” [in a passage by a favorite writer of his]”, he found the passage to be beautiful; Paul Manata responded with the following egregiously coarse and ugly comment:

Pump the [male] exclusivity straight into my veins!

Paul Manata, commenting on a Facebook post, last accessed April 06, 2022

The reference of course is to mainlining meth, a procedure which Manata, who allegedly had been a meth dealer and meth user in the past, is presumably well familiar with. Mainlining misogyny would give him the same rush and sense of power as mainlining meth. Appalled, I linked to my blog post regarding Mr. Manata’s rather … er … colorful … past in order to place his comment in the proper context.

Paul Manata was not pleased. His response begins with an attempt to attack the credibility of my source. Manata bases his attack on the pseudonym my source chose on the site, Triablogue, where he posted the information about Mr. Manata’s past. Someone who calls himself “DingoDave” could not possibly be credible, Manata implies. I am a bit uncertain, however, why identifying oneself with a tough, wily, resourceful creature able to survive in the Australian desert would make one less reliable as a source of information.

…your source is a 14 year old comment written by someone who calls himself “Dingo Dave,” [sic]…

Paul Manata, comment on an Facebook Page, last accessed April 05, 2022

DingoDave had quote extensively from a lengthy confessional text written by Manata. Not only is DingoDave a weirdo, harrumphed Mr. Manata, but the passages quoted by DingoDave come from a non-existent blog post. A non-existent blog post! That sure does sound fishy. What is that character DingoDave trying to pull? The quote snippet below continues the one above:

…and who himself references a non-existent blog post as his source…

Paul Manata

But what Manata fails to mention is that the reason the blog post does not exist is because Mr. Paul Manata himself deleted the blog! DingoDave notes that Paul Manata deleted the link he used to pull Manata’s confession:

Update: Paul has deleted this link and all links I make reference to below. I suspect it’s because he is embarrassed about his behavior. See for yourself.

DingoDave, commenting at http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/07/level-of-argumentation-at-debunking.html, last accessed 04/06/2022

Manata notes:

I deleted every single link on that old blog because I deleted that old blog. 

Paul Manata, commenting as the user Error, at http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/07/level-of-argumentation-at-debunking.html, last accessed 04/06/2022

Manata’s level of deceptiveness astounds. Meth users are well known for their facility and smoothness at lying (see David Sheff’s A Beautiful Boy); perhaps this facility lingers for a while after one has stopped using. Manata is perfectly aware that DingoDave was quoting accurately, because Manata had written the material himself then deleted it himself. And those words come as no surprise to Manata’s associates at Triablogue:

I’m familiar with Paul Manata’s past. He’s mentioned it in some form many times, in many places.

Jason Engwer, commenting in response to DingoDave’s quotations from Paul Manata’s confession, at http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/07/level-of-argumentation-at-debunking.html, last accessed 04/06/2022

Were the quotes made up, Manata’s colleagues at Triablogue or Manata himself would have raised the alarm on that blog. And notice that neither at Triablogue nor on Facebook does Mr. Manata himself go so far as to actually deny anything DingoDave said. Instead, on Facebook, he merely attempts to deflect attention from his dodgy past by silly attacks on DingoDave’s pseudonym and by insinuations about no-longer-existing blog posts.

Meth users are prone to the extreme violence of the sort Manata recounts engaging in, so perhaps it is not entirely coincidental that Manata was allegedly both a meth user and a meth dealer.

In a recent blog piece Manata even compared Gordon Clark, one of the most respected and prolific Reformed theologians and philosophers in the twentieth-century, to a methamphetamine dealer who cuts his “Scripturalist drug” with “intellectual battery acid.” Of course, this is from a man who, by his own admission, is “a former drug user and dealer (meth, El Cajon, CA),” so perhaps his time as a user/dealer has had a lasting and deleterious effect on his mind that would explain him calling Dr. Clark a drug pusher and his work “sophomoric”

magma2, posting at https://godshammer.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/van-tils-barking-dogs/, last accessed 04/07/2022

I will never be able to unsee this picture of Mr. Manata mixing battery acid to the meth he sells to his customers. Certainly he talks as if he is familiar with the practice.

But why don’t you tell us, magma2, what you really think of Paul Manata?

FWIW Manata is just a vicious unthinking bully. He was a vicious bully before he became a Christian and he still is one today. While some of his methods have changed (although he’d probably want to “jump” me if he ever met me), it seems his M.O. has not. Thankfully we Christians are saved by grace. Perhaps someday the Lord will even change a mind like Manata’s — although outside of an occasional prayer for the man, I’m not holding my breath.

magma2, commenting at https://godshammer.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/van-tils-barking-dogs/, last accessed 04/07/2022

I have no stake in this particular pissing contest between Manata and these particular Calvinist theologians. I am sitting on the sidelines, eating popcorn as I watch. The whole atmosphere is that of meth dealers going after one another for territory. But what magma2 says seems pretty accurate.

But back to Manata’s misogynist remark quoted towards the beginning of this essay post. The remark reeks of misogynist rage and potential violence. If one seeks to make humankind exclusively male — at least in linguistic reference — and compares doing so to the rush of an intense feeling of power that meth users report when they “pump” the drug directly into their veins — one is also seeking to make women less than and subject to that power. This is a situation ripe for misogynistic violence, especially when some women refuse to be treated as less than. As I describe the logic here, the mere fact that a woman might get too uppity is sometimes enough to trigger the violence.

The same logic holds, of course, for homophobic violence. Meth of course acts as an accelerant for the rage and violence of the sort Mr. Manata engaged in, and the intensity of the rage and violence displayed in the murder of Matthew Shepard suggested to many people in Wyoming that meth may have been a factor in that senseless killing. (“Another meth murder” was the reaction of many people in Wyoming to Shepard’s death, meth being a scourge in the Mountain States.)

It is both the misogyny and the allusion to mainlining meth that makes Mr. Manata’s assertion so ugly:

Pump the [male] exclusivity straight into my veins!

Mainlining Methamphetamine; mainlining misogyny

This is the context of Manata’s remark that needed to be brought into the open in order to understand how horrifically ugly that remark is. It is important to call out bad behavior like Manata’s to ensure it is commonly understood how utterly unacceptable it is.


Insults That Rise To The ‘Classic Of Western Civilization’ Level

1. “He had delusions of adequacy ” Walter Kerr

2. “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”- Winston Churchill

3. “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. – Clarence Darrow

4. “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”-William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

5. “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”- Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

6. “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas

7. “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain

8. “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” – Oscar Wilde

9. “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one.” -George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

10. “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.” – Winston Churchill, in response

11. “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here” – Stephen Bishop

12. “He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright

13. “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” – Irvin S. Cobb

14. “He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson

15. “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up. – Paul Keating

16. “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tucker

17. “Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” – Mark Twain

18. “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” – Mae West

19. “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde

20. “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.” – Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

21. “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder

22. “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I’m afraid this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx

23. The exchange between Winston Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.” He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

24. “He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.” – Abraham Lincoln

25. “There’s nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won’t cure.” — Jack E. Leonard

26. “They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.” — Thomas Brackett Reed

27. “He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.” — James Reston (about Richard Nixon) —Robert L Truesdell

28. (Spoken with the absolutely perfect tone of softly musing, scholarly interest when I showed her one of my paintings) “I didn’t know that chimpanzees could do art.” — A professor at Loyola (Chicago). I still crack up whenever I think of this.