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.

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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.

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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.


Ratzinger Enabled The Abuse Of Andreas Perr

Andreas Perr, Whose Abuse Ratzinger Enabled

Still feeling amused, Gregory Mehr?

Ratzinger sent a pedophile priest to to the small town of Garching in Germany, knowing that he had molested boys. He did not inform anyone in Garching about this, rendering boys in that town sitting ducks for the predatory priest. Ratzinger may as well have delivered Andreas Perr, then all of 12 years of age, into the clutches of this priest. Ratzinger enabled his abuse, and by enabling Ratzinger through endless exculpatory bullshit, each and every conservative who ever defended Ratzinger bears their portion of the responsibility for this abuse. Your refusal to accept responsibility degrades you as a person, Gregory Mehr.

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“Mr. Perr, now 38, is still trying to rebuild a life after what the church put him through. He is no longer a member of the Catholic Church.

“As Archbishop Ratzinger ascended to greater heights, Mr. Perr’s life spiraled into an ever deeper abyss. His mother refused to believe him, and he fled home and got into heavy drugs like heroine, living out on the streets.

“After it happened, I started having nightmares,” he said. “That’s what made me start doing drugs. I wanted to stop dreaming, to stop feeling guilty and disgusting. I just didn’t want to feel anything anymore.”

“Over the years, Mr. Perr ended up in prison twice, getting out on parole only last year.

“That was when he found the criminal lawyer Andreas Schulz, after learning Mr. Schulz was representing other abuse victims of the same priest. Together, they decided to aim higher: They would file a civil lawsuit, not just against the priest accused of molesting him and several boys in Garching, but also against the Archdiocese of Munich and Joseph Ratzinger, then its archbishop.”


Goodby And Good Riddance, Herr Ratzinger

I found a couple days ago a picture of one of a person whose abuse Ratzinger enabled. Ratzinger made a phone call and sent a pedophile priest to this remote location in Germany where he preyed upon this teenager. The teenager, now 38, was not able to get his life back on course, falling into drugs and depression. Recently he came out as one of Ratzinger’s victims. 

Looking at his photograph really clarifies one’s intuitions. It is one thing to think of these abused teenagers in the abstract as just numbers, but it is another to look on this concrete, flesh and blood person who has suffered immensely but MAYBE still has a chance at a reasonably normal life. Ratzinger may have been charming in this or that circumstance. He may have come up with this or that interesting little twist in theology — I wouldn’t know because theology is not my field. Nonetheless, looking at the picture of that young man strikes home the fact that Ratzinger was an evil man, and if there is a hell, he is spending time there. 

I am a universalist myself, so I don’t believe he would be spending eternity there. But I do think he is to receive his due, even if that consists wholly in his receiving a correct accounting here. I have not been able to find that picture again. It will turn up again eventually. When it does, I will post it. But in the meantime, I would like you, Mr. G. M., to think of a 38-year old youngish man whose life you and your fellow Christo Fascists are messing up right now by enabling his abuse. You are complicit in his abuse by continuing to try to shield the likes of Ratzinger with your bullshit, ensuring that the people like him, having escaped accountability,  will be able to abuse again. Your responsibility is heavily diluted by the fact that millions of others like you are doing the same thing, but you share in the responsibility nonetheless. 

That you attempt to laugh this away only magnifies your degradation, your shallowness, your moral turpitude. This is what degrades you — not the sex — male or female — of whatever person happens to catch your eye.  I don’t truly know where you rank on the Kinsey Scale — I would be surprised, but you might even be a Kinsey 0. But I will point out that, wherever you rank, it is always the closet cases, the self-haters, that do so much damage.

Inspired violence against gay people. Enabled abuse of teenagers

Amazon Review Of John Skalko’s *DISORDERED ACTIONS*

My review of John Skalko’s *DISORDERED ACTIONS: A Moral Analysis of Lying and Homosexual Activity* appeared on Amazon today (01/15/2022).

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A previous reviewer suggested Skalko would have been better off jettisoning the portion of the book in which he tries to enlist philosophers as “expert witnesses” to testify against the morality of gay sex. I have to agree, since this section adds nothing to Skalko’s argument and only raises a number of red flags regarding the quality of his Plato and Aristotle scholarship.

These red flags seriously detract from the one good point about his book: his critique of Feser’s distinction between a “contrary” use of an organ or faculty and a merely “other-than use.” Feser makes this distinction in an attempt to defang some of the usual mirth-provoking counter-examples to Natural Law Theory, which stands accused of rendering a number of innocent activities, such as gum chewing, immoral. Skalko’s critique of Feser’s distinction is worth exploring.

Unfortunately, this one good point does not make up for the terrible impression Skalko leaves in this “expert witness” section. Skalko’s readings of his “expert witnesses’ – Plato and Aristotle in particular – are simply not up to par. Skalko places Aristotle in the ‘same-sex-activity boo!’ camp on the basis of a corrupt text of Aristotle’s that is missing a critical word. See Martha Nussbaum’s analysis of that missing word and its import for the correct interpretation at [Amazon messed up my citation]. Professor Nussbaum is a classicist and philosopher of the very first rank. Skalko’s ignoring her cannot be excused.

Skalko attempts to place the Plato of the PHAEDRUS in the ‘same-sex-activity boo!’ camp on the basis of a wildly-off reading of lines 250e-251a. Even stripping that passage from its context, it is an odd passage on which to try to base the claim that Plato is somehow antigay. For the passage consigns eros of the child-bearing sort to the level of animals. The passage directly contradicts Skalko EVEN WITHIN THE SAME PARAGRAPH, as well as later, in 256c-256e. Read within its context, it is clear that what Plato objects to is not same-sex activity per se — and certainly not same-sex eros! — but unrestrained sexual activity of any kind. If lovers exercise restraint in their physical eros, they will later enjoy a blissful existence of the ‘we two boys together clinging, one the other never leaving’ sort. Look at the text and see for yourself. See also Nussbaum op. cit. on page 327, and Scully’s translator’s footnote on page 32.

In short, Skalko’s readings of Plato and Aristotle are tendentious to the extreme. This tendentiousness can be explained, I think, by a malice directed against the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters that Skalko does not always succeed in hiding. In a truly strange passage on page 322 of DISORDERED ACTIONS, Skalko accuses us of revealing our true colors as liars after the announcement of Obergefell v. Hodges. He seems to think that we promised him that we would not try to tax religious institutions once gay marriage was in place. But lo and behold, what does our co-conspirator (!) Time Magazine do after the decision? I yield the floor to Skalko: “After the announcement of Obergefell v. Hodges, however, those in the gay movement revealed their true colors Two days after the announcement, Time Magazine published an article arguing the state ought to start taxing religious institutions.” I am sorry that you felt lied to, John Skalko, but I assure you I certainly never promised you that we would not try to tax religious institutions if you only gave us gay marriage.

This quickness to assume bad faith and bad morals on the part of his opponents does not do much to increase one’s confidence in the quality of Skalko’s work. DISORDERED ACTIONS has its moments of decent analysis, but these are overwhelmed by a frequent and shocking carelessness and lack of adherence to basic standards. Conservatives seeking to make their point should demand better.

Skalko is stunningly incompetent on Plato and Aristotle

Natural vs. Unnatural Eros In Plato’s *PHAEDRUS*

Y’all should know that my eros for Marlon Brando is platonic and moving rapidly from this particular namesake of beauty, Marlon Brando, to the platonic Form beauty itself

Conclusion of the previous essay-post: It is plain that the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS* is far, far from disparaging “homosexual acts”, much less regarding them as immoral. Dispositive evidence for this occurs within the same paragraph of the text Skalko quotes with the aim of showing that Plato is anti-gay! Plato’s discussion a few lines later of the not-purely spiritual lovers who exercise moderation in their physical eros is also dispositive in this regard. These lovers get to enjoy after death a life together in a kind of Whitmanesque paradise. Clearly, Skalko was not reading the 251e-252a passage in its context, an omission that reveals a stunning degree of incompetence on his part. Indeed, I think it would be a mistake to take it for granted that he had even read the passage itself. Skalko is certainly not the most careful Plato scholar in the world.

But if Plato was not using “unnatural eros” to refer to homosexual eros, what did mean by that phrase? This essay-post attempts to answer this question. Hint: the laws of the four-footed beasts are at home in unnatural eros. The four-footed beasts either look down (oxen or cattle, for example) or straight ahead (cheetahs, for example). They are always down here, on the ground. The animals they mount during mating surely feel their heaviness. One can imagine the hoof-prints left in the mud.

By contrast, the essence of eros is always up. Notoriously, eros moves toward, is drawn towards, beauty. This movement occurs every time a namesake or “reflection” of beauty causes one to gasp in awe and reverence and render the soul’s memory of the Form beauty itself hot and vivid. Metaphorically (imagistically) speaking the Forms are located “up there”, above the vault of heaven. So eros carries the soul up in an ascent to the Form beauty itself. This movement covers a rather wide range of action, all the way from the “winged eros” that might appeal to Phaedrus’ middle-school type humor to the contact with God achieved by Saint Teresa of Avila (whose entire body rose) and by Saint John of the Cross, whose poetry is, on one level, highly homoerotic.

Ironically, what Plato refers to as “unnatural pleasures” are those that the animals indulge in for breeding purposes as they mount one another in the mud trying to produce offspring. These are the pleasures that we moderns are most likely to call “natural”, but Plato looks at them a bit askance, as if the words “Ew, breeders are disgusting — they are the lowest of the low” were beginning to form on his lips. [Tongue a bit in cheek of course] Just as it is in the nature of water to flow down, it is in the nature of eros to move up — in ways both physical and spiritual, with the physical serving as an image for the spiritual. Eros is at its most “natural” when it is in contact with the Form beauty itself. Corruption of the soul in general and wantonness in particular may be hindrances to the upward movement needed for this contact, but same-sex desire itself, and even same-sex desire expressed physically, is not.

What Then Does “Unnatural” Mean In Skalko’s *PHAEDRUS* Passage?

Those of us who regard Marlon Brando (illustrated above) in his role as Stanley Kowalski as a “namesake” of the platonic Form ‘beauty itself’ number not a few. Or would, that is, if they knew what the heck I am talking about. But I am about to get to that. The movie he appears in is, of course, *A Streetcar Named Desire*, aptly named for any discussion of desire, aka eros.

And of course quite a few of us regard Channing Tatum as a namesake of beauty itself equal in status with Mr. Brando.

You may ask, Dear Reader, what in the heck is this “namesake” business? Let me back up a bit and explain. In the process of explaining what Plato means by “namesake”, I will end up covering a fair amount of ground in the thought of Plato. The target of this explanation is of course answering the question what the words “natural” and “unnatural” mean in the *PHAEDRUS*, especially in that passage from the *PHAEDRUS* that John Skalko so ineptly ripped from its context in order to portray, ludicrously, the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS* as somehow anti-gay.

So what is this namesake business? Plato adheres to the “Fido”/Fido theory of language. Like every word in a given language, the word “Fido” gains its meaning from naming something — the dog Fido. The more high-falutin words “Beauty”, “Justice”, “Good” and other abstract nouns likewise have meaning by virtue of being names. Meaningful, they are not just arbitrary noises. Therefore each one of them names something — .e.g. Beauty, Justice, Good, and so on. Therefore, those entities exist; otherwise the corresponding names would not be meaningful.

One is not going to find these entities in any of the furniture of the world — Beauty is not hiding underneath a desk, and this is so even if one did find Channing Tatum himself hiding under a desk. Beauty and so on are not in space/time. Therefore, they are eternal and unchangeable, and exist without any dependency on material things existing in space and time. Quite the reverse — spatial/temporal entities have a total dependency on these entities, bearing the same relation to them that a reflection in the mirror bears to the thing reflected.

(I choose the ‘reflection thing reflected’ metaphor (which I get from Reginald Allen) to describe this relation rather than the more usual ‘imitation/thing imitated’ metaphor because the former avoids the Third Man argument against the … I may as well start calling beauty etc. “the Forms”. I think Plato first advances the Third Man argument against the Forms in the guise of the philosopher Parmenides in the eponymous dialog (beating Gregory Vlastos by more than two thousand five hundred years), though I adhere to Reginald Allen’s take that there are plenty of hints in the dialogue that Plato himself does not accept that argument nor any of the other arguments against the Forms advanced by the dialogue character Parmenides.)

Anyway, material, spatial/temporal entities are not substantial (i.e., independently existing) but are reflections of the Forms. When we say “this sunset is beautiful”, we are naming the sunset after the Form Beauty, just as, in one’s capacity as landlord, one may name the painter in one’s attic, perhaps a bit informally, after Picasso. (As in “where’s the rent, Picasso boy?”) Called after beauty itself, the sunset is a namesake of beauty existing in the material realm. Called after the real painter Picasso, the guy in the attic is Picasso’s namesake. We distinguish between the reflections and the “things themselves’ by adding itself” or “himself” or “herself”: Beauty itself, Justice itself, the Good itself, Picasso himself. and so on. A Form need not be high-falutin to count as a Form: Mud itself, for example, is one of the Forms (as Reginald Allen persuasively argued.)

Plato of course talks in terms of images and metaphors — in terms of what things are like:

It would take a god and a long time to examine in every detail what kind of thing the [soul] is, but human beings in a shorter amount of time can describe what she is like. So let’s take this route.

*PHAEDRUS*, 246a, trs. Scully, p. 26. Brackets enclose an alternative translation suggested by Scully

So, for example, there is no literal place where the Forms exist. But we can steal from the poets the image of the night sky with its shining constellations, and say that the Forms are like that, but situated above the heavens. Dwelling in the heavens, the gods are able to “view” the Forms, not with a physical eye, but with the mind’s eye.

The soul, being immortal, exists before birth. In its pre-natal state, the soul takes a tour of the Forms in a chariot with the god it is most similar to. The soul then acquires a first-hand knowledge of the the things themselves — this is the soul’s “initiation” into knowledge, truth, and being. Naturally, a great deal can go less than totally perfectly in this educational journey, and the soul may end up with a less than impressive knowledge of this or that Form — or even of all of them.

After birth, it no longer has a direct vision of the Forms, but a longing for things past, a memory or recollection that can be vivid or faint, “near” or just a distant memory, sharp or just barely there. Among these Forms, Beauty Itself has a way of shining so as to stand out.

But now, as we were saying, beauty shone brightly in the midst of those visions, And when we came here [away from the heavens, and to earth], we grasped it shining most clearly through the clearest of our senses, because sight is the sharpest of our physical senses. … But, as it is, beauty alone has this distinction to be naturally the most clearly visible and the most lovely.

*PHAEDRUS*, 250c — 250e, trs. Scully, p. 31.

The shining reflections of beauty itself in the material realm have a way of standing out from the rather dull reflections of mud itself.

The lingering memory of beauty itself in all its shining presence leaves the soul (assuming it has not become too corrupted) with a vulnerability to unexpected occurrences of a reflection of beauty:

To be sure, few souls are left for whom that memory [of beauty itself] is sufficient [to render one vulnerable to occurrences of beauty]. Whenever they behold an image of the things there [in the realm of the Forms], they are thoroughly startled and they are no longer themselves and they do not recognize the sensations that they are having because they cannot perceive it sufficiently.

*PHAEDRUS*, 250a — 250b, trs. Scully, pp. 30-31.

“In the woods there is a bird whose song stops you short and makes you blush”, says the poet. The bird’s song in its beauty startles one and makes one blush. Taking in the song can be almost painful, as if it were something that can pierce, something that cuts through, like a child’s new teeth. One may feel as though they cannot take it in sufficiently, or ever attain a “maximal grasp” on it.

The beauty of the bird’s song may pierce one. The mystic may turn this into an intense experience at the same time she discourages, in order to preserve its authenticity, attempts to willfully generate this experience:

Bernini, St. Teresa In Ecstasy

Or again, one may gasp, startled, when the road into Zion in Utah turns a bend and one all of a sudden sees these ethereal rock spires soaring out of the mundane ground as if from a different world. Again, it may be difficult to wrap one’s mind around that experience — something always escapes.

Only the reflections of beauty have this power; the appearances of justice itself and so on are not nearly as potent. The reflections of justice itself do not by means of the memory of justice itself seize one so as to alternate between cold shudders and fevers, making cholera an apt metaphor for eros in the novel *LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA*. The person in the grip of eros may, as he enters the appropriate age, find his body undergoing all sorts of awkward growths, swellings, and throbbing protrusions, like the alien commander in *THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN* who has been assigned the human body of an adolescent male. The whole thing is a bit of a shock. The raging hormones of this adolescent can be likened to a kind of boiling in terms of desires and emotions. Terror also, as Nico in the Rick Riordan novels finds out when eros confronts him with truth that he must either face or constantly flee from. The person in the grips of eros experiences both pain and terror. But when this person is able to drink from his beloved’s eyes, he also experience a warm, soothing pleasure.

Eros seizes one, Plato has Socrates say in his palinode (Plato, *PHAEDRUS*, 252c, trs. Scully, p. 34). It grabs hold of one suddenly. The ways in which eros seizes one when a reflection of beauty itself appears in the world traverses a wide range of ground, ranging from the terrifying, as expressed in Rilke’s *First Duino Elegy*:

Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

to Middle-school humor suited to the *THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN*. (The translator Scully tells us that stalk” can mean “penis”, to give just one example)) Eros “grabbing” one can be sublimated by the mystic into a sensation of rising into the air in one’s ecstacy, as if one were being carried up.

There can be quite a bit of pain — piercing at its sharpest, but then devolving to aches and irritating itches. But there is also relief from pain, and a soothing, life-giving warmth as a stream of joy enters the soul from the particular person or thing serving as a namesake for beauty itself.

But the recent initiate, someone who has amply observed things from that past realm, at first shudders and feels something of those old terrors come over him when he sees a god-like face or any part of the body which is a good imitation of beauty. Later, looking more, he feels reverence as if he were before a god and, if he were not afraid to appear excessively mad, he would sacrifice to his darling boy as if to a statue and a god. As is natural after his cold shudder, a change, accompanied by sweat and unaccustomed fever, comes over him as he looks. At the same time, he is warmed as he receives the in-flowing of beauty through the eyes. From the in-flowing, the natural power of the wing is altered and with this warmth the scabbing around the projection which sometime before had hardened and closed up, preventing blooming, begins to melt away. With the in-flowing nourishment the wing’s stalk under the surface of the soul begins to swell and to feel the urge to grow from its roots. At one time, you know, the entire soul was winged. In this state the whole soul boils and throbs violently — not unlike the itching and aching irritation around the gums that a child feels when he begins to teethe. That’s the same sensation which the soul feels when her wings begin to sprout: she boils, aches, and itches. So, whenever a soul looks at a boy’s beauty she is watered and warmed from this as she takes in these in-flowing and invading draughts of beauty — that’s why it’s called “desire.” This causes both a relief from pain and a feeling of joy.

*PHAEDRUS*, 250-251d, trs. Scully, pp. 31-32. Emphases mine

All of these phenomena are, directly or indirectly, related to the trope for rising. [Everything from Mel Brooks to Saint Teresa of Avila. Very wide range. Penetrating deeply. Double entendre wasn’t really intended, but there it is.

Some of these phenomena are those literal risings which form the subject of so much Middle School humor. Witness Mel Brooks:

Eunuch Test, from Mel Brooks

Socrates suspects Phaedrus is capable of this level of humor.

My beautiful darling boy, this passion which we have been discussing, human beings call love; but when you hear what the gods name it, you will laugh probably because of your youth. Some Homeric singers, I think, speak of two verses from an unpublished epic to Love, and one of them is utterly outrageous and not entirely metrical. But the song goes like this:

                  Verily mortals call him winged Eros,
                  but gods call him Winged because he makes things rise.
*PHAEDRUS*, 252b, trs. Scully, p. 33

Hahahahaha.

And maybe Phaedrus would have found the following amusing as an illustration of the relation physical things (shadows, reflections) bear to the Forms:

Sorry — I accidentally let my inner Junior High Student out for a second there.

Stephen Scully, the translator, whose Greek and knowledge of the ancient world is certainly better than mine, thinks that the *PHAEDRUS* is full of double-entendres like this.

It is very probable that “winged” is slang for the erect phallus, a point made even more strongly at 252b. In the prior sentence, “stalk” translates kaulos, a word only used here in Plato’s oeuvre. It refers principally to the stalk of a plant and here is frequently translated as “quill”; the word is also widely used to refer to the duct of a penis, a woman’s cervix, or the penis itself. With other words in this passage referring to growth, swelling, and pulsing, it appears as if the double entendre is fully intended. The philosophical soul’s eroticism is contrasted with the corrupt soul’s “unnatural” desire to beget children. Unlike the aroused penis of a corrupt soul which can find a physical object to relieve its desire, the aroused state of the philosophical soul can only be relieved b a “recollection” or “memory” of the eternal Forms.

*PHAEDRUS*, 252b, trs. Scully, p. 33, fn

The rising of the penis with its “wings” serves as a rather concrete metaphor for a movement up — or at least an aspiration towards — beauty itself on the part of the soul. The sight of a beautiful young man, or person, or painting (say, Renoir’s *GIRL WITH THE WATERING CAN*) powerfully remind the soul of its vision of beauty itself in its pre-natal life — so powerfully that the soul begins to grow its wings back, with all the raging-hormone symptoms noted in the passage above. “At one time, you know, the entire soul was winged”. Unlike the penis, these wings are of course not physical. But both belong to the domain of eros, whose fundamental orientation or direction is up.

Everything bolded in the passage above bears a direct or indirect reference to that direction. Reverence: to revere someone or something is, whatever else it may be, to look up to that person or thing. One is prone to shudder when experiencing a god or something god-like in the heavens above — the heavenly unheimlich. Old terrors — the power up there that serenely disdains to annihilate us. A change, accompanied by sweat and unaccustomed fever, as one’s wings grow back in. The inflow of warmth coming into the eyes heals the scabbing around the projections where the wings are trying to grow back in, aiding that process. The wing’s stalk under the surface of the soul — the penis when one is talking literally — swells ad blood flows in, and grows from its roots. Raging hormones set in, with all the boiling emotions, aches, itches, throbbing, and pain. Plus — to throw in the line from The Poet — a blush rises to one’s cheeks. So both turbulence and soothing — all to help the instruments of upward flight grow back in.

…when someone looks upon earthly beauty and is reminded of the true beauty, he acquires wings; and when he tries those wings, eager but unable to take flight — like a bird looking upward — and he shows no concern for things below, there are reasons to think him touched with madness.

*PHAEDRUS*, 249e, trs. Scully, p. 30,

Thought, through memory, is always near the Forms, such as beauty itself — at least when things go right. When things do go right, the soul becomes god-like, for a god’s nearness to the Forms is what renders it divine. It is as if the soul had a god within — certainly it has the memory of beauty itself and the other Forms within — so the soul’s “madness” is a divine madness.

Given the right conditions, the nature of eros is to bear the soul up — or at least make the soul aspire to the heavens. [“Up” and “down” are definitely value-laden metaphors. Will happen automatically if the conditions are right, just as water will automatically flow down unless something restrains it from doing so.]]

In the nature of eros to move upward, or at least aspire to:

Thus, the person who has been corrupted or who is not a recent initiate is not conveyed quickly to beauty itself, that is, he is not carried from here there quickly.

PHAEDRUS*, 250e–251a, trs. Scully, p. 31

But the person who has not been corrupted, or who is a recent initiate (i.e., has viewed beauty itself recently enough that the object of his memory of beauty is still vivid in his soul) is conveyed quickly to beauty itself, i.e., is carried from “here” to “there” quickly. “Here” is the material realm of heavy objects (including shells). “There” is where beauty itself is, which, as we have seen, is obviously not a literal location with GPS coordinates. Plato is talking by way of images, here. Even though there are no GPS coordinates with which to locate beauty itself, the movement towards it from “here” is “up”. For, at the risk of repeating myself even more endlessly, the movement of eros is “up”, like the seedling spontaneously shooting up towards the light and air. Not a literal “up”, the direction is a metaphorical “up”.

A greater height is an image for power, goodness, morality, religiosity, and beauty. A lesser height serves as an image for powerlessness, less-than-exemplary goodness, ugliness,and negative moral and aesthetic meaning. Where one places words on a computer screen even affects how rapidly one recognize the relevant words:

Valence

Our language involves many associations between a positive concept and up (e.g., thumbs up, cheer up) and between a negative concept and down (e.g., thumbs down, feel down). Building on this association, Meier and Robinson (2004) found participants were quicker to recognize positive words that appeared at the top of the screen than they were to recognize the same words at the bottom of the screen. Additionally, participants more quickly recognized negative words positioned at the bottom (vs. top) of the screen.

Expanding the concept of valence to morality, Meier, Sellbom, and Wygant (2007) found that people more quickly recognize words with a positive moral meaning (e.g., nurture, caring, charity, truthful, and trustworthy) when they appear toward the top of the screen. Conversely, they more quickly recognize words with a negative moral meaning (e.g., corrupt, dishonest, adultery, molest, and evil) when they appear toward the bottom of the screen.

Similarly, many metaphors associate the concept of God with something that is up (e.g., the most high God) and the concept of the devil with something that is down (the underworld). Meier et al. (2007) used several words that appeared one at a time at the top or at the bottom of a computer screen and asked participants to categorize them as either God or devil related. Participants more quickly categorized a God-related word presented at the top of the screen and more quickly categorized a devil-related word at the bottom of the screen. Another study by Meier et al. (2007) shows that participants rated strangers whose pictures appeared toward the top of the screen as being more religious than those whose pictures occurred toward the bottom.

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/694082, last accessed 01/04/2023

Higher and lower can also carry the more morally neutral meanings of more concrete and more abstract. Anything that is insufficiently concrete or practical is “blue sky”.

Concreteness

There are several conceptual connections between something that is down with it being more concrete, denser, more constraining, and heavier. Meyers-Levy and Zhu (2007) applied the concept of verticality to a living space, specifically in terms of ceiling height. They noted that there is a widespread belief that ceiling height can affect the quality of indoor consumption experiences. Thus, the authors empirically showed that a room with high ceilings activates concepts related to freedom, while one with low ceilings activates confinement-related concepts. It is worth noting that freedom-related concepts, in turn, prime creativity and abstraction. … .

Deng and Kahn (2009) investigated the relationship between vertical placement and weight. Specifically, they found that an object placed in a lower position of a visual field will be perceived as heavier than the same object placed in a higher position. The foundation of this metaphor can be traced in our daily experience with gravity: heavy things are pulled to the ground, whereas light objects (e.g., balloons) float upward. 

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/694082, last accessed 01/04/2023

Just as the seedling will make it to the light unless something constrains it, the soul, when the image of beauty itself is very, very vivid and fresh, will make its way up to beauty itself. The “is carried” suggest this is not something the soul can perform as a voluntary action it is something done to the soul, something that “grabs” the soul and ‘conveys it up, as when for example, with one’s memory of beauty itself becoming a white-hot heat after seeing a beautiful young man, one feels the need to worship him as if he were a god.

For example, one may gasp — feel reverence and awe — in the face of Channing Tatum, as if one were in the presence of a god:

<Just kidding — I think>And if you do not, then I am sorry . There is something wrong with you. Your vision of beauty itself is well past its expiration date. Through whatever accidents and incidents, whatever injustices, your soul has become corrupted. It no longer exists in the Hyperion light.</Just kidding — I think>

If we speak of having a “distant memory” of something, we mean that the thing remembered is faint, as if far away spatially. Usually the memory is faint because a sufficient amount of time has passed from one’s encountering the thing. So the amount of temporal distance gets equated with spatial distance. The clearer, the more vivid the remembered object is, the “near” it is to one. “I remember this as if it were yesterday — and if the memory sufficiently sharp, ala Proust’s madeleine, one is brought “right there” to the remembered thing or circumstance. The beautiful young man functions as a kind of madeleine, rendering beauty itself vivid enough that it is as if one were brought “right there”.

Essential to eros then is movement. By bringing one to beauty itself in memory, eros takes one closer to the situation in which, way above the heavens, one was looking up at beauty itself as if at a shining constellation, . , eors, then One’s contact with beauty itself in this material world is through eros rendering the memory of it within one’s soul very, very vivid.

Because of what it is, water always flows down — unless something hinders it. That is its nature. Because of what it is, eros always moves the soul “up” towards the Form beauty itself. Again, this is not a literal movement describable by GPS coordinates, but one going from the image “lower” (the base, the leaden, the morally dubious) but also the practical, the down-to-earth; to the “higher” (the more abstract, the more moral, the more noble; but also the more impractical, the more “blue sky). Eros always moves the soul higher, that is, unless something constrains it.

The “natural” direction of water is down. The “natural” direction of eros is up. The upward physicality of eros as a winged phallus serves as a nice if somewhat awkward-for-some image for the upward spirituality of eros as a kind of winged angel.

But all sorts of unfortunate events can render one’s memory of the forms less than optimal. The original vision itself may have been hindered by whatever jerky motion plus obstructions. God knows what can happen when the soul falls back to earth. Once back on earth, one’s circumstances may be too tight to allow for much beauty to cool and soothe one and let one’s wings regrow. Or one’s memory of beauty itself may be too distant now, too far in the past, to enliven one’s life that much today. All these constraints may be unfair. One did not necessarily do anything to deserve this dryness, this failure of a reflection of beauty itself to uplift one. — Or maybe one has let themselves get corrupted by the false promises of the material realm, so that one thinks there is nothing higher worth aspiring to.

All these factors hinder the soul’s natural upward movement, rendering it less than rapid. One remains on the heavy earth, mucking around in the mud, looking not up but down at the ground, like the beasts with hooves. On top looking down, pressing down with one’s weight on what is below. In this condition, one doesn’t feel reverence at the beauty of a young man or sunset or melody, because to feel reverence is to look up to something — and all the vectors of the soul are now pointing down. One’s eros is now full of weight and heaviness: it sinks down to the lowest common denominator. Eros now is for breeding purposes only, not for anything higher, such as poems by Walt Whitman. To the contrary, eros is for something low. The soul is in a dreary state of surrender. One lets themselves go and everything slips down — cheek, jowel, stomach. No effort at restraint checks this downhill slide into a definitely non-dithyrambic state in which nothing that does not have a functional purpose has value or is worth celebrating. The soul works to counter this dullness by fucking everything that moves, but with a bias to those sexual acts most likely to lead to breeding. A habitual indulgence in excess ensues. In its wantonness, the soul loses the sensitivity to beauty that reverence, the emotional cognition of beauty, gives it. One doesn’t care what one fucks. It could be anything. Not valuing or caring about anything, the soul is not ashamed that it’s standards have fallen so low. Nor is it afraid to offend the god eros by being so impervious to beauty. The soul doesn’t even fear that it may pick up a disease. Whatever. A low, emotional/cognitive state, too dull for either fear or shame.

Anyone who was initiated long ago or who has been corrupted is not given to moving rapidly from here to there, towards beauty as it really is. Instead, he gazes on its namesake here on earth, and the upshot is that the sight does not arouse reverence in him. No, he surrenders to pleasure and tries like an animal to mount his partner and to father offspring, and having becoming habituated to excess he is not afraid or ashamed to pursue unnatural pleasures.

Plato, *Phaedrus*, 250e-251a, as quoted by John Skalko in *DISORDERED ACTIONS*, pp. 26-27.

Just as the nature of water is to flow downhill, which it will if left unhindered, the nature of eros is to move upward, to be in a state of uplift. It will be in such a state of uplift unless something weighs it down. It is to experience the beautiful by way of reverence, as in the initial emergence of Zion past the bend the road. Without the reverence, without the wings, with all the vectors pointing down, not up, eros is in a contra-natural state. The erotic acts performed in this state are denatured so to speak. These acts are unnatural, their pleasures unnatural pleasures. But their “unnatural” state derives not from their being same-sex erotic pleasures, but from their “heaviness”, their lack of spirit and uplift. Whether the erotic desires are same-sex or opposite sex is irrelevant.

It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of manifestations of eros will be of this “unnatural” kind. A particular case of something might be in the minority among members of that kind, but still be a more central, defining case for that kind. Suppose, for example, that I own an antique shop. The normal sale is supposed to make a profit. Nonetheless, all my sales for the year might be loss leaders until, at the very end of the year, I sell for ten million dollars a Gutenberg bible that I had bought at a thrift store for five dollars. This final sale best fits the standard of what a sale is supposed to be, what it should be, even though the loss-generating sales are the vast majority.

The eroticism of the philosophical soul is definitely in the minority, but it adheres more closely to the nature of eroticism than does the corrupt soul’s:

The philosophical soul’s eroticism is contrasted with the corrupt soul’s “unnatural” desire to beget children. Unlike the aroused penis of a corrupt soul which can find a physical object to relieve its desire, the aroused state of the philosophical soul can only be relieved by a “recollection” or “memory” of the eternal Forms.

Scully, p. 32, footnote

In using the passage just cited as evidence that he Plato is somehow “anti-gay”, Skalko was clearly operating on automatic and reading “unnatural pleasures” as meaning “pleasures gained through actions contrary to the natural purpose of sex ala Thomas Aquinas”. That the phrase “unnatural pleasures” occurs in the context of a paragraph ranking rather low animals mounting one another in order to produce offspring did not appear to trouble Skalko in the slightest. One wonders if he had even read the *PHAEDRUS*, much less try to pit his interpretations of the text against those of first-rate scholars such as John Scully or Martha Nussbaum. That Skalko would go on automatic this way is both depressing and a red flag for the quality of his far-right Catholic scholarship. Clearly, Skalko is all-too-used to preaching to the choir and is not in the habit of submitting his interpretations to the acid tests that skeptical but knowledgeable audiences would be more than happy to provide.

Carelessness and incompetence this bad are completely unacceptable. Given Skalko’s clear malice against the LGBTQ+ community and those who support this community, it is important to point out this incompetence in no uncertain terms.

01/12/2023 0

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Lumber Room

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This. This memory is fainter — “more distant” — or vivid and “close”. (“I remember it as if it were yesderday”) But the person whose soul has been corrupted, or in whom the memory of beauty has become very faint over time, is “caeros rried” or “conveyed” to beauty itself in a manner that is at best sluggish.

What is natural to eros is to rise 00 in a number of ways, both physcial asn dpriictual. When one thedoesn’t rise, somethng has gone wrong with one’s soul, as I keep remeiming people who cannot appreciatre the gorgousenss n=f CHanniung Taum. ( Eros cannot work its upwars magic on them. Rather than rising, they muck around in the mud like animals and treat eros as if it were in the realm of the animlas. Like animals, they are breeders. This is the common notion of “natural” to eros –b ut in truth the stat eof affairs is the oopposite. This is what is unnatural to eros.

Seizure. In the woods, there is a bird whose song stops you short and makes you blush. Beauty sizes one; the siezure is ertoic, making you blush. Given the relativity of motion, I doubt that Plato would complain too loudly were one to say that the increasing nearness of beauty as it becomes more vividly remembered is also one’s being moved neart to it, going “towareds it”.

Negation: the corrupt soul implies what happens to the healthy soul. The more vivid memory brings one nearer — a kind of movement. As Plato indirectly implies, beauty seizes one and carries one nearer to it.

That the person whose soul has been corrupted or who is not a “recent initiate” is not “conveyed” or “carried” quickly to beauty itself suggests (conversational implicature, I daresay — not by strict logic) that the recent initiate who is not corrupted will be carried to beauty itself. That is to say, will come nearer to that Form through a “recollection” that perhaps even approximates the recent vision of beauty itself. Beauty itself draws one to it — that is its nature. The movement is a kind of rapture (though Plato does not seem to say this explicitly) because it is not something one initiates, not something one engages, but something that happens to one, something that engages one like hearing a gunshot in the woods.

The recollection or “revivifying of the memory of beauty itself when experiencing some beautiful person or thing can be quite a sharp experience. One may gasp. Or experience a cold shudder. Or undergo a sweat. A fever. An ache. We feel held in thrall. An anguish. Even an old terror. Memory of divine radiance. One feels reverence, as if he were before a god.

For example, one may gasp — feel reverence and awe — in the face of Channing Tatum, as if one were in the presence of a god:

<Just kidding. I think.>And if you do not, then I am sorry . There is something wrong with you. Your vision of beauty itself is well past its expiration date. Through whatever accidents and incidents, whatever injustices, your soul has become corrupted. It no longer exists in the eperion light.</Just kidding. I think.>

Or Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in *A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE*:

… I’m sorry, Dear Reader. I got carried away there for a minute. Now where was I?

Oh yes. Beauty itself as drawing the soul towards it through the agency of eros. The soul as getting carried away towards beauty itself rapturously or ecstatically. Since beauty itself is (to process this through an image) “up there” above the heavens, this means that the movement towards beauty itself is a movement upwards. (Contrast this with the ecstatic as presented here, which is a lateral movement.) This same trope of ‘on and upward’ is natural to eros; stifling that movement is unnatural to eros, lessens it, defuses its power. Any “pleasures gained through unnatural eros must be seen as departing from its essence, since there is only a sluggish movement towards beauty itself. Again:

Thus, the person who has been corrupted or who is not a recent initiate is not conveyed quickly to beauty itself, that is, he is not carried from here there quickly.

PHAEDRUS*, 250e–251a, trs. Scully, p. 31

It is this movement that defines eros. Obeying the law of the animals will give you only this bargain-basement thrift-store version of eros, since the trope of that law is downard — the four-footed animals always close to the ground when they are not facing it as they graze — not upward. Those whose hooves, paws, or feet are set firmly on the ground get a cheap knock-off version of eros as opposed to the genuine article. There are certain advantages to having one’s feet firmly planted on the ground, but getting swept off one’s feet and rising in rapturous ecstasy into the air are not among them.

That the vast majority of manifestations of eros are of the gross animal kind, opposite-sex or same-sex, does not gainsay this point.

Just as bad as the sluggish movement towards beauty itself on the part of the corrupted soul is the lack of reverence displayed by that soul towards beauty’s namesakes and towards beauty itself. God only knows, Dear Reader, how anyone could not display reverence before Channing Tatum or Marlon Brando as before two gods, but apparently it is possible. Perhaps a soul that has been addicted to meth for a decade could accomplish this, if “accomplish” is the word. I will go out on a limb and say that eliciting reverence belongs to the essence of absolute beauty, what absolute beauty is. But reverence has an upward trope. “Look up to” can often replace “reverence” or “revere”

And certain friends of mine, Dear Reader, are just barely capable o exercising enough restraint to avoid setting up an altar to Channing Tatum and leaving offerings there. Thank goodness I don’t have that problem. Yes, I know I have already quoted the following passage, but some things bear repeating:

But the recent initiate, someone who has amply observed things from that past realm, at first shudders and feels something of those old terrors come over him when he sees a god-like face …. Later, looking more, he feels reverence as if he were before a god and, if he were not afraid to appear excessively mad, he would sacrifice to his darling boy [or movie actor] as if to a statue and a god.

*PHAEDRUS*, 251a–251d, trs. Scully, pp. 31-32

But as I state, I am just saying this about a friend.

Now whenever I look into Mr. Tatum’s gorgeous green eyes, I find myself wondering “How could any guy look into those eyes and not be gay for at least five seconds? Now Plato doesn’t mention the eyes of either Channing Tatum or of the beautiful boy, but I see the eyes as [‘the especially beautiful part.] I see Plato saying much the same thing about the lover’s beautiful boy when he has Socrates say:

As is natural after his cold shudder, a change, accompanied by sweat and unaccustomed fever, comes over him as he looks. At the same time, he is warmed as he receives the in-flowing of beauty through the eyes. From the in-flowing, the natural power of the wing is watered and with this warmth the scabbing around the projection which sometime before had hardened and closed up, preventing blooming, begins to melt away. With the in-flowing nourishment the wing’s stalk under the surface of the soul begins to swell and to feel the urge to grow from its roots. … So whenever a soul looks at a boy’s beauty she is watered and warmed from this as she takes in those in-flowing draughts of beauty.

[The gist of the argument: the caged bird wants to fly away from the cage. It’s being caged is an unnatural state for it. , and it will fly away — quite spontaneously – the moment the cage is opened. It’s motion is hindered. What is unnatural about eros in the Skalko passage is that its motion is hindered. Laden down. Heavy. Eros always wants to rise and will do so quite spontaneously. Heidegger’s physis as a rising into the light of day.]

As I have shown in the previous essay-post, Plato could not have been disparaging physical homosexual eros, much less condemning it as immoral, in the Skalko Phaedrus passage by using the phrase “unnatural pleasures”. He is not using that phrase to single out homosexuality. But if, by using that phrase, Plato was not condemning as immoral physical homosexual eros, or disparaging it, or placing it at the lowest of the low, what was he disparaging by using the phrase “unnatural pleasures” mean? He was surely not using “unnatural” in a neutral or even positive way, as one might by saying “The Italian Mannerists sometimes employed unnatural poses for expressive effect”. Else why place it in such an unflattering context?

Let’s take another look at the culprit passage.

Thus, the person who has been corrupted or who is not a recent initiate is not conveyed quickly to beauty itself, that is, he is not carried from here there quickly. When looking at beauty’s namesake here, such a person fails to experience true reverence as he gazes but yields to pleasure and tries to mount and to spawn children according to the law of a four-footed animal. In company with wantonness, he shows no fear or shame as he pursues unnatural pleasure.

Plato, *PHAEDRUS*, 250e–251a, trs. Stephen Scully (Indianapolis, Hackett Publishiung Company, Inc., 2003), p. 31. Henceforth and above *PHAEDRUS*, (line numbers), trs. Scully

The first sentence suggests that the person who has not been corrupted (or who is a recent “initiate”) does get conveyed to or carried to beauty itself quickly. The corruption , or the dimming of the memory through time, hinders the movement towards that Form. In what follows, I argue

The passive voice of “get conveyed” and “get carried” indicates this movement is not an action that one instigates, but something one undergoes. Beauty has a drawing power, a bit like a magnet. One is carried to it rapturously or ecstatically, the more so the more intense the beauty is. At first this movement is a “lateral” movement towards a god-like namesake (see the appendix), towards Channing Tatum, for example, or towards the Marlon Brando of *A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE*.

(1) For example, one may gasp — feel reverence and awe — in the face of Channing Tatum, as if one were in the presence of a god:

<Just kidding. I think.>And if you do not, then I am sorry . There is something wrong with you. Your original prenatal vision of beauty itself is well past its expiration date. Through whatever accidents and incidents, whatever injustices, your soul has become corrupted. It no longer exists in the eperion light.</Just kidding. I think.>

Or Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in *A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE*:

Perhaps those who are enraptured by Brando here once viewed the forms under the guidance of Hephaistos.

Oh yes. Beauty itself as drawing the soul towards it through the agency of eros. The soul as getting carried away towards beauty itself rapturously or ecstatically. Since beauty itself is (to process this through an image) “up there” above the heavens, this means that the movement towards beauty itself is a movement upwards. (Contrast this with the ecstatic as presented here, which is a lateral movement.) This same trope of ‘on and upward’ is natural to eros; stifling that movement is what produces the unnatural.

Now where was I? Oh yes, discussion the types of movement brought about by beauty itself and by its “reflections” in the material world. It may not be totally inapropos to describe this lateral movement the way it is presented here.

Now if one can avoid getting completely dissipated by getting enraptured by this beautiful young man or that other one, one just might have enough concentration and energy left to tend towards the memory of of beauty itself that lingers in one soul like a glowing coal from the fireplace. Theoretically, this memory could become as full and as intense as the original vision. To switch from an igneous to an aqueous metaphor, the drafts of beauty that one can receive by looking deep into Channing Tatum’s wondrously green eyes (I have always wondered how anyone could look into those eyes and not emerge gay for at least five seconds) revive the soul’s wings.

To switch from an aqueous metaphor to wings and flight through the air, these drafts of beauty (from Mr. Tatum’s eyes to one’s own) cause the soul’s wings to regrow. The Forms are above one because they exist above the heavens, so the soul needs wings to reach them. Of course, both the wings and the location of the Forms are poetic images, not literal descriptions. But the trope itself (physical body weighing the soul down, aspirations high up where bluebirds sing) is very real, just as “moving on up” is very, very real for the entrepreneur who has suffered terribly from poverty. There is motion in the ancient Greek sense of simple change as the “memory” of beauty (and maybe “memory” is not being used literally here) of beauty itself becomes more and more intense, more and more present, real. The sense of “ascent” for the Platonist is very real, even though no change of position describable by Cartesian coordinates is happening.

All these tropes of upward movement. The double-entendres so beloved by one’s inner middle-schooler. Reverence. Heidegger’s physis. ENd with the translator.

Now where was I? Oh yes, discussion the types of movement broiught about b beatuy itsef and te indered motion from “here” to “there’. Two ways of N at this. Here” is on earth. “There” is above the heavens. But there is also another quaous metaphore to a kind of “motion” in which the soul’s recollection of beauty itself becomes less and less faint, clearer and clearer, less and less distant, nearer and nearer. I shall assume that the drawing power of beauty itself becomes greater and greater. left

The passage that immediately follows this one underscores just how egregious Skalko’s blunder is:

But the recent initiate, someone who has amply observed things from that past realm, at first shudders and feels something of those old terrors come over him when he sees a god-like face or any part of the body which is a good imitation of beauty. Later, looking more, he feels reverence as if he were before a god and, if he were not afraid to appear excessively mad, he would sacrifice to his darling boy as if to a statue and a god. As is natural after his cold shudder, a change, accompanied by sweat and unaccustomed fever, comes over him as he looks. At the same time, he is warmed as he receives the in-flowing of beauty through the eyes. From the in-flowing, the natural power of the wing is altered and with this warmth the scabbing around the projection which sometime before had hardened and closed up, preventing blooming, begins to melt away. With the in-flowing nourishment the wing’s stalk under the surface of the soul begins to swell and to feel the urge to grow from its roots. At one time, you know, the entire soul was winged. In this state the whole soul boils and throbs violently — not unlike the itching and aching irritation around the gums that a child feels when he begins to teethe. That’s the same sensation which the soul feels when her wings begin to sprout: she boils, aches, and itches. So, whenever a soul looks at a boy’s beauty she is watered and warmed from this as she takes in these in-flowing and invading draughts of beauty — that’s why it’s called “desire.” This causes both a relief from pain and a feeling of joy.

*PHAEDRUS*, 250-251d, trs. Scully, pp. 31-32

If one’s aim is to disparage homosexualty, one does not start by insinuating that same-sex eros is a manifestation of a corrupted state of the soul, then go on to say in the same paragraph that when a person is in the uncorrupted state the (male) soul is watered and warmed while it takes in the beauty of the male beloved. (Cue the sunshine, bluebirds, and lark song.) So yes, for the umpteeth time, Skalko is an idiot, at least as regards Plato.

But we already knew that.

Central to the nature of beauty is the movement up and movement towards. The “unnatural” eros of the bests and their law is downward looking. Upward direction of hte phallus an image of the upward movement towards Beauty.

Stephen Scully also thinks that “unnatural pleasure” in the Skalko passage does not mean homosexual pleasures:

For example, when looking at a “namesake” of beauty itself, such as Channing Tatum or Marlon Brando … let me back up a moment and explain this “namesake” business. Plato adheres to the “Fido”/Fido theory of language. The word “Fido” gains its meaning from being the name for the dog Fido. The words “Beauty”, “Justice”, “Good” and abstract nouns like them have meaning. They are not just arbitrary noises. Therefore they name things — .e.g. Beauty, Justice, Good, and so on. Therefore, those entities exist; otherwise the corresponding names would not be meaningful. One is not going to find these entities in any of the furniture of the world — Beauty is not hiding underneath a desk, and this is so even if one did find Channing Tatum himself hiding under a desk. Beauty and so on are not in space/time. They are eternal and unchangeable, and exist without any dependency on material things existing in space and time. Quite the reverse — spatial/temporal entities have a total dependency on these entities, bearing the same relation to them that a reflection in the mirror bears to the thing reflected. I choose the ‘reflection thing reflected’ metaphor (which I get from Reginald Allen) to describe this relation rather than the more usual ‘imitation/thing imitated’ metaphor because the former avoids the Third Man argument against the … I may as well start calling Beauty etc. “the Forms”. I think Plato first advances the Third Man argument against the Forms in the guise of the philosopher Parmenides in the eponymous dialog (beating Gregory Vlastos by more than two thousand five hundred years), though I adhere to Reginald Allens’ take that there are plenty of hints in the dialogue that Plato himself does not accept that argument. Anyway, material, spatial/temporal entities are not substantial (i.e., independently existing) but are reflections of the Forms. When we say “this sunset is beautiful”, we are naming the sunset after the Form Beauty, just as, in one’s capacity as landlord, one names the painter in one’s attic after Picasso. (As in “where’s the rent, Picasso boy?”) We distinguish between the reflections and the “things themselves’ by referring to Beauty itself, Justice itself, the Good itself, and so on. But a Form need not be high-falutin to count as a Form: Mud itself, for example, is one of the Forms (as Reginald Allen persuasively argues.)

Plato of course talks in terms of images and metaphors — in terms of what things are like:

It would take a god and a long time to examine in every detail what kind of thing the [soul] is, but human beings in a shorter amount of time can describe what she is like. So let’s take this route.

*PHAEDO*, 246a, trs. Scully, p. 26. Brackets enclose an alternative translation suggested by Scully

So, for example, there is no literal place where the Forms exist. But we can steal from the poets the image of the night sky with its shining constellations, and say that the Forms exist above that. Dwelling in the heavens, the gods are able to “view” the Forms, not with a physical eye, but with the mind’s eye. The soul, being immortal, exists before birth. In its pre-natal state, the soul takes a tour of the Forms in a chariot with the god it is most similar to. The soul then acquires a first-hand knowledge of the the things themselves — this is the soul’s “initiation”. Naturally, a great deal can go less than totally perfectly in this educational journey, and the soul may end up with a less than impressive knowledge of this or that Form — or even of all of them. After birth, it no longer has a direct vision of the Forms, but a longing for things past, a memory or recollection that can be vivid or faint, “near” or just a distant memory, sharp or just barely there. Among these Forms, Beauty Itself has a way of shining so as to stand out.

But now, as we were saying, beauty shone brightly in the midst of those visions, And when we came here [away from the heavens, and to earth], we grasped it shining most clearly through the clearest of our senses, because sight is the sharpest of our physical senses. … But, as it is, beauty alone has this distinction to be naturally the most clearly visible and the most lovely.

*PHAEDRUS*, 250c — 250e, trs. Scully, p. 31.

That the person whose soul has been corrupted or who is not a “recent initiate” is not “conveyed” or “carried” quickly to beauty itself suggests (conversational implicature, I daresay — not by strict logic) that the recent initiate who is not corrupted will be carried to beauty itself. That is to say, will come nearer to that Form through a “recollection” that perhaps even approximates the recent vision of beauty itself. Beauty itself draws one to it — that is its nature. The movement is a kind of rapture (though Plato does not seem to say this explicitly) because it is not something one initiates, not something one engages, but something that happens to one, something that engages one like hearing a gunshot in the woods.

The recollection or “revivifying of the memory of beauty itself when experiencing some beautiful person or thing can be quite a sharp experience. One may gasp. Or experience a cold shudder. Or undergo a sweat. A fever. An ache. We feel held in thrall. An anguish. Even an old terror. Memory of divine radiance. One feels reverence, as if he were before a god.

For example, one may gasp — feel reverence and awe — in the face of Channing Tatum, as if one were in the presence of a god:

<Just kidding. I think.>And if you do not, then I am sorry . There is something wrong with you. Your vision of beauty itself is well past its expiration date. Through whatever accidents and incidents, whatever injustices, your soul has become corrupted. It no longer exists in the eperion light.</Just kidding. I think.>

Or Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in *A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE*:

… I’m sorry, Dear Reader. I got carried away there for a minute. Now where was I?

Oh yes. Beauty itself as drawing the soul towards it through the agency of eros. The soul as getting carried away towards beauty itself rapturously or ecstatically. Since beauty itself is (to process this through an image) “up there” above the heavens, this means that the movement towards beauty itself is a movement upwards. (Contrast this with the ecstatic as presented here, which is a lateral movement.) This same trope of ‘on and upward’ is natural to eros; stifling that movement is unnatural to eros, lessens it, defuses its power. Any “pleasures gained through unnatural eros must be seen as departing from its essence, since there is only a sluggish movement towards beauty itself. Again:

Thus, the person who has been corrupted or who is not a recent initiate is not conveyed quickly to beauty itself, that is, he is not carried from here there quickly.

PHAEDRUS*, 250e–251a, trs. Scully, p. 31

It is this movement that defines eros. Obeying the law of the animals will give you only this bargain-basement thrift-store version of eros, since the trope of that law is downard — the four-footed animals always close to the ground when they are not facing it as they graze — not upward. Those whose hooves, paws, or feet are set firmly on the ground get a cheap knock-off version of eros as opposed to the genuine article. There are certain advantages to having one’s feet firmly planted on the ground, but getting swept off one’s feet and rising in rapturous ecstasy into the air are not among them.

That the vast majority of manifestations of eros are of the gross animal kind, opposite-sex or same-sex, does not gainsay this point.

Just as bad as the sluggish movement towards beauty itself on the part of the corrupted soul is the lack of reverence displayed by that soul towards beauty’s namesakes and towards beauty itself. God only knows, Dear Reader, how anyone could not display reverence before Channing Tatum or Marlon Brando as before two gods, but apparently it is possible. Perhaps a soul that has been addicted to meth for a decade could accomplish this, if “accomplish” is the word. I will go out on a limb and say that eliciting reverence belongs to the essence of absolute beauty, what absolute beauty is. But reverence has an upward trope. “Look up to” can often replace “reverence” or “revere”

And certain friends of mine, Dear Reader, are just barely capable o exercising enough restraint to avoid setting up an altar to Channing Tatum and leaving offerings there. Thank goodness I don’t have that problem. Yes, I know I have already quoted the following passage, but some things bear repeating:

But the recent initiate, someone who has amply observed things from that past realm, at first shudders and feels something of those old terrors come over him when he sees a god-like face …. Later, looking more, he feels reverence as if he were before a god and, if he were not afraid to appear excessively mad, he would sacrifice to his darling boy [or movie actor] as if to a statue and a god.

*PHAEDRUS*, 251a–251d, trs. Scully, pp. 31-32

But as I state, I am just saying this about a friend.

Now whenever I look into Mr. Tatum’s gorgeous green eyes, I find myself wondering “How could any guy look into those eyes and not be gay for at least five seconds? Now Plato doesn’t mention the eyes of either Channing Tatum or of the beautiful boy, but I see the eyes as [‘the especially beautiful part.] I see Plato saying much the same thing about the lover’s beautiful boy when he has Socrates say:

As is natural after his cold shudder, a change, accompanied by sweat and unaccustomed fever, comes over him as he looks. At the same time, he is warmed as he receives the in-flowing of beauty through the eyes. From the in-flowing, the natural power of the wing is watered and with this warmth the scabbing around the projection which sometime before had hardened and closed up, preventing blooming, begins to melt away. With the in-flowing nourishment the wing’s stalk under the surface of the soul begins to swell and to feel the urge to grow from its roots. … So whenever a soul looks at a boy’s beauty she is watered and warmed from this as she takes in those in-flowing draughts of beauty … This causes both a relief from pain and a feeling of joy.

The drafts of beauty.

The middle school refernces. Hahahahahah

My beautiful darling boy, this passion which we have been discussing, human beings call love; but when you hear what the gods name it, you will laugh probably because of your youth. Some Homeric singers, I think, speak of two verses from an unpublished epic to Love, and one of them is utterly outrageous and not entirely metrical. But the song goes like this:

Verily mortals call him winged Eros,  
but gods call him Winged because he makes things rise.
*PHAEDRUS*, 252b, trs. Scully, p. 33

Stephen Scully, he translator, whose Greek and knowledge of the ancient world is certainly better than mine, thinks that the *PHAEDRUS* is full of double-entendres.

It is very probable that “winged” is slang for the erect phallus, a point made even more strongly at 252b. In the prior sentence, “stalk” translates kaulos, a word only used here in Plato’s oeuvre. It refers principally to the stalk of a plant and here is frequently translated as “quill”; the word is also widely used to refer to the duct of a penis, a woman’s cervix, or the penis itself. With other words in this passage referring to growth, swelling, and pulsing, it appears as if the double entendre is fully intended. The philosophical soul’s eroticism is contrasted with the corrupt soul’s “unnatural” desire to beget children. Unlike the aroused penis of a corrupt soul which can find a physical object to relieve its desire, the aroused state of the philosophical soul can only be relieved b a “recollection” or “memory” of the eternal Forms.

Heidegger’s physis.

Conclusion. Why hindering eros leads to “unnatural pleasures”. The need for eros to rise leads to a kind of asceticism. Socrates probably practiced “Appreciative Discrimination”. Images, not strict argument.

Another avenue into the mean of “unnatural” inWinged eros. The middle school references. the tys, Skalko passage is provided by what Heidegger claims to be the pre-Socratic m awayeaning of “physis”, i.e., “nature”. I see a trace of this pre-Socratic meaning as persisting in the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS”, with Plato eventually moving away from that meaning and towards a more rigid Thomistic meaning. To make sense of all of this, I would like to discuss physin in relation to Plato’s theory of the Forms. So a brief discussion of the latter will be necessary,

I have tried to show, dear Reader, how ‘motion’ is tied to beauty itself in a number of ways. Eros is a being drawn, often sexually, to beauty, usually by way of the the “namesakes” or “reflections” (often sexually) of beauty itself. Our grossness and piggishness often clouds our perception, but a truer image or reflection of beauty is revealed when, with a gasp, we feel the need to revere, say, Channing Tatum or Brad Pitt or Timotheé Chalamet or the beautiful boyfriend. To revere is to look up to, so the height of beauty is one thing about it that shows up in a truer image. Speaking imagistically, the Form beauty itself is situated above our heads, above the heavens, so the more we are drawn to beauty itself as opposed to one of its reflections. We are “carried” or “conveyed” up through its drawing power, a power that, metaphorical or not, Saint Therese of Avila must have felt in her eros towards the divine. Eros directed towards beauty sustains the entire gamut of images and phenomena, from the winged phalluses in the ancient world to ecstatic spirituality in 16h century Catholic Spain. Can recognize the relatedness but also the separation.

It is part of nature generally to rise into the light of day.

Movement, then, is in the nature of eros as a direction towards beauty and to the beautyiflu. Hinder the movement, and you degrade the eros. The upward movement is in the nature of eros as well. Which means that the hindered, sluggish, nonreverential, dowarnard-oriented movment of the four-footed beases is unnatural.

However, Skalko’s interpretation of this passage is directly falsified just a few pages later in the dialogue, where Plato ranks (or has Socrates rank) the varieties of homoerotic eros. The highest rank is given to that same-sex attraction between male lovermeaning that it is not customary for men to have long hair. and male beloved whose emotional intensity brings both to a kind of divine madness but is never expressed physically. When this sophrosyne is breached just every now and then, the lovers’ relationship still ranks highly in Plato’s esteem — but just not quite as highly when the same-sex attraction remains purely spiritual. Unlike the lovers whose eros and divine madness are purely spiritual, the lovers whose eros is sparingly physical do not grow wings upon death. But in time, as they “…lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other…” Plato, Phaedrus, 256e) a “common plumage” will grow from their love (256e).

And as I will be showing in a few paragraphs, Plato allows same-sex couples to engage in physical sex, as long as restraint is exercised.

A more finely nuanced view of what Plato is saying in the above passage can be gained, first, by looking at the various and sundry meanings “natural” (kata physin) and “unnatural” (para physin) had in the Greek-speaking ancient world; and second by looking at the immediate context in the *PHAEDRUS* of the above passage.

One way to grasp the meaning that nature as physis had in the ancient world is to contrast it with artifacts, as is done here from a Heideggerian point of view. In the following, I have elided some of the (maybe) more idiosyncratic Heideggerian phrasing, and retained the British spelling of the commentator. I am not always a huge fan of Heidegger’s word analyses, and am far from sufficiently expert to pretend to be a final authority on the cogency of the following as an analyis of “physin” in the ancient Greek-speaking world. I submit it because it is enormously suggestive, so I am curious to see how well it fares in the critical acid baths that may ensue.

The commentator, Alison Stone, has Heidegger claiming that, for the pre-Socratics, nature or “physis” is “…a kind of movement, but one that comes from within nature itself (not from any exterior source)…” It is a “spontaneous process….” “…In contrast, artefacts have a different way of coming into being – through being made by a craftsperson who uses skill to realise a pre-existing blueprint…The movement (into presence) of artefacts does not come from themselves but from this pre-existing idea, aided by the craftsperson”.

The key word here is “movement”. The plant’s emergence from a seed below the ground into the light of day is a kind of movement that does not come from any exterior source, but from the seed itself. At each stage the movement results in something well-formed (what I take “morphe” to mean, and is “…essentially genesis, the spontaneous process…” of emerging “…into the light of day”. The formation of an artifact, however, is no such spontaneous process of “genesis”.

Or again, water flows downhill by nature, trhat is to say, of its own accord. Water flows downhill of itself, and will fail to do so only when “artifactually” aka artificially constrained by a blockage of some sort such as a dam.

I employ the metaphor of water naturally (kata physin) moving downhill, but Plato employs what Stephen Scully regards as some double entendres metaphors to place the natural movement of the soul in response to beauty in the opposite direction — upward.

Phallus image 1.

Phallas image 2. Swelling.

Phalllus image 3. Making things rise

Reality intrudes.

Nonetheless.

The soul moves towards beauty of itself. It fails to do so only when it is corrupted in some way, and has been reduced to the level of those breeder four-footed beasts. Face to the ground, not looking upward in longing and aspiration, is the unnatural state.

What, then, is being referred to by “unnatural pleasures”? Surely that is a reference to homosexuality, is it not? So one possible interpretation of the above passage is as follows: given over to and used to excess, the person with the corrupted soul will fuck anything and everything, engaging in “unnatural” acts as well as those presumably “natural” acts our four-footed friends allegedly engage in exclusively. Caught up in frenzy of excess. Perhaps also a bit jaded by sex of the natural persuasion. ,

First: Dr. Lyn M. Kidson discusses what the words meant in the ancient world here, here, and here. It is clear that the Natural Lawyer would be foolish to assume, without evidence or analysis, that para physin has much of anything, if at all, to do with the medieval Natural Law Theory with its insistence that the male parts fit with the female parts. I don’t think it would be too wild an extrapolation from Dr. Kidson’s analysis that the “natural” (kata physin) relates to the “unnatural” (para physin, or “outside of” or “besides” nature or going beyond it and maybe even going “against” it) as water flowing downhill relates to water being forced to move uphill. Your mileage may vary, Dear Reader. What arises of itself in an orderly, predictable, well-formed way. Deep expectation. Contrast with artifacts, whose shaping and development depend upon a craftsman who has an blueprint in mind that the artifact needs to conform to. Plato may be starting the devolution to seeing everything as an artifact (of the demiourgos, or of a god, or whatever). Including us, unfortunately. But the upward growth and wings and fluid double-entendres show that, at least pre-*LAWS*, Plato has not arrived at that point yet. The “power” Eros, in all its vitality, is not yet an artifact “residing, as it does according to Mr. Skalko, in the penis. The soul is eternal, after all, existing prior to its finding itself in the material world. It is not an artifact.

Second: the context is Plato’s mythological explanation of our knowledge of the Forms, e.g., the Good itself, Beauty itself, Justice itself. Even Mud itself, though we won’t find Plato dealing with that here. (You should, dear Reader, look up what Reginald Allen has to say about ‘Mud itself’ as a genuine platonic Form in his analysis of the dialogue *PARMENIDES*.) The things we bump against in the material world relate to the Forms as reflections in a mirror related to the thing reflected. That is to say, their being is wholly relational and derivative from the Forms. The Forms by contracts have a substantial being — they can exist without the things reflected just as the person looking in the mirror an do just fine without their mirror reflection. Substantial, they are what is “really real”, the things that are in the non-muddled sense of “is”, while particular material things are just sort-of-kind-of real — real in a muddled way. Names such as “beauty” or “justice” are really names of their corresponding Form, e.g., Beauty itself or Justice itself. Particular beautiful or just things are named after the Form they “participate in” or “reflect. They are namesakes of the real thing, just as we may call a person working on a canvas after an exemplary painter (as in “Picasso over there is hard at work on his canvas).

Motion. Water flows downhill of itself, and will fail to do so only when “artifactually” aka artificially constrained by a blockage of some sort such as a dam. The soul moves towards beauty of itself. It fails to do so only when it is corrupted in some way, and has been reduced to the level of those breeder four-footed beasts. Face to the ground, not looking upward in longing and aspiration, is the unnatural state.

Every human soul has had a non-material, pre-natal existence during which it experienced a direct “vision” of the Forms. The vision the soul had then of Beauty itself in all its radiance was beatific. There is something ecstatic about the vision of beauty. To glimpse beauty itself through one of itse namesakes call after it is to be in a state of transport, “…conveyed quickly to beauty itself”, “carried from here to there (to the realm of the Forms, though of course not materially) quickly. This is part of the nature of beauty itself — to be transported this way is the equivalent of watr flowing downhill. A deep expectiation stemming from what beauty is, something with the power to draw.

One feels awe and reverencce in the god-like face of a clear reflection of beauty itself.

But … sometone who has amply observed thngs fromt aht past realm, at first shudders and feels something of thos old terrors come over him when he sees a go-like face or any pr of the body which is a good imitation fo beauty. Oter, looking mor, he feels rerence as if he were before a god and, if he ere not afraid to appear ecessivey mad, he would sacrifice to his darling boy as if to … a god.

For example, one may gasp — feel reverence and awe — in the face of Channing Tatum, as if one were in the presence of a god:

And if you do not, then I am sorry . There is something wrong with you. Your vidion of beiguty itself is well past its expriation date. Throuigh whatever accidents and incidents,w ahtever instices, your sould has become corrupted. It no longer exists in the eperion light.

Not getting vonveyed is the queivalent of forcing wather uphill, perhaps bty way of a dam, a blockage. Whatever is keeping the corrupt sould from getting transported goes counter to the natur eo beauty. It is unnatrual.

It is in this unnatnural state that one yields to the grossly pgysial aather than soaring into the empyrioni Mounts — feel the weight! Four-footed — how close to the ground! No wings here — not even in aspriation!

f analysis of physin as a risinug up.]

Transport from here to there is the soul’s natural state in response to beauty — is water flowing downhill. This transport is deeply expected.

That is what happens, that is, to that extent that the body which impresions the soul like the shell of an oyster does not get in the way.

But one only has to place this passage in its context to realize that Skalko’s interpretation of it as critical of “homosexuality” is tendentious to the extreme. The context is the soul’s pre-natal vision of the forms — beauty itself, justice itself, the good itself, and so on. Generally “the things that are”. That the human soul has already viewed the things that are is a thorough-going expectation, since only those souls that have viewed these will have “come into this life form” from their previous existence as viewers of the forms:

And as we have said, by our very nature every human soul has already viewed the things which are; or else she wouldn’t have come into this life form.

Plato, Phaedrus 249e-250a. Emphasis added by me.

The Greek kata physin has a number of meanings, among which is ‘unfolding from an inherent principle’, has the expected characteristics.’ [Link to engendered. Ox tails, for example. ] If you will permit me to reach into the 19th and 20th centureis, Dear Reader, it likewise belongs to the very nature of the English peppered moth to adopt the coloration of the tree bark it is residing on. Any moth that does not do this will quickly become breakfast for a predator. This winnowing process creates a deep expectation for what one will find as they observe English peppered moths. The norm is for the observer to see moths that have acquired the coloration of the tree bark on which they reside. The peppered moth that does not is definitely a short-lived exception to the norm. Not a normal moth, where :normal” means “not an exception”, and “exception” means “not adhering to the norm”. It is not too much of a stretch to say that it belongs to the very nature of an English Peppered moth to adopt the coloration of the bark

Now beautiful things in our ealthly realm are reflections of the form ‘beatuty itself’. What beatuy itself is is something that holds us in thrall. We gasp. These reflections stirr in us a memory of ouir vision of beauty itself, and we gasp. We are startled. Memory of divine radiance.

Unfortunately, in our earthly existence, it is all too easy to forget the sacred things we saw when we beheld the forms. Someone who has not beheld beauty itself for a long time, or who has become corrupted, will not experience this startled reaction. Your mileage may vary, Dear Reader, but I have always wondered about those unfortunate souls who cannot recognize Channing Tatum as the clearest reflection on earth either have become corrupted, or have not refreshed their memeoy of trhe forms or a very, very long time.

What is the “expected” or “normal” behavior of one who is still “half drunk” from his sight of Beauty itself, beauty as it really is?But

Homosexual actions sound pretty bad, then. Performed for the sake of pleasure, they reduce one to the status of an animal. One engages in them when any inclination towards moderation or restraint has been worn away by a habitual indulgence in excess. Just as bad, these actions are unnatural, so they must be immoral. This is, after all, the “…nearly unanimous consensus among philosophers throughout history…” (Skalko. p. 26). Because these philosophers are the experts in the field of ethics, we must respect their authority.

Or so Skalko would have it.

However, Skalko’s interpretation of this passage is directly falsified just a few pages later in the dialogue, where Plato ranks (or has Socrates rank) the varieties of homoerotic eros. The highest rank is given to that same-sex attraction between male lover and male beloved whose emotional intensity brings both to a kind of divine madness but is never expressed physically. When this sophrosyne is breached just every now and then, the lovers’ relationship still ranks highly in Plato’s esteem — but just not quite as highly when the same-sex attraction remains purely spiritual. Unlike the lovers whose eros and divine madness are purely spiritual, the lovers whose eros is sparingly physical do not grow wings upon death. But in time, as they “…lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other…” Plato, Phaedrus, 256e) a “common plumage” will grow from their love (256e).

One vision of a “bright life in blessed journeys with each other” is Walt Whitman’s:

WE two boys together clinging,	 
One the other never leaving,	 
Up and down the roads going—North and South excursions making,	 
Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutching,	 
Arm’d and fearless—eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,	         5
No law less than ourselves owning—sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,	 
Misers, menials, priests alarming—air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,	 
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,	 
Fulfilling our foray.

Be that as it may, it is plain that the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS* is far, far from disparaging “homosexual acts”, much less regarding them as immoral. Plato’s discussion of the not-purely spiritual lovers is dispositive in this regard. Clearly, Skalko was not reading the 251e-252a passage in its context, an omission that reveals a stunning degree of incompetence. Richard Yettle Chappell’s point regarding the character of the person making an argument as incredibly bad as this is apppropos.

Further, I think insults aren’t always inappropriate. Creationists and homophobes, for example, tend to make revealingly bad arguments. In critiquing these arguments, we first aim to show why the conclusion doesn’t follow. But we are also in a position to draw a conclusion about the character of the person advancing the argument. Many arguments are so bad that they could not be honestly made by any informed rational person. Thus anyone who makes them must be either stupid, ignorant, or dishonest. In the course of criticising such an argument, a partisan may wish to point this out, just to emphasize how incredibly bad the argument really is. I don’t think it’s necessary wrong to do so. Some positions are so lacking in rational warrant that they deserve our scorn.

https://www.philosophyetc.net/…/attacks-and-arguments.html

Skalko manifestss the same faults that Richard Carrier accues Edwasrd Feser of:

…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.

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/18356

Skalko is a repeat offender in the incompetence arena. In basing his similar reading of Aristotle as an “expert witness” decrying the “immorality” of homosexual acts, on a corrupt text, he does not even mention Martha Nussbaum (a classicist and philosopher of the first rank) and Kenneth Dover (a classicist of the first rank), who pointed out the corruption of the relevant passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, for which no critical edition apparently exists. At least one crucial word is missing from the text Skalko relies on; and that word may not be the only one missing. Heavy hitters such as Nussbaum, Dover, and Carrier think that most probably Aristotle was not asserting, in the text, that homosexual acts are immoral. (cf [Link])

So Skalko must be either must be either stupid, ignorant, or dishonest. In my humble opinion, his critique of Edward Feser here [Link] is adequate evidence that he is not stupid. [ He did, after all, eviscerate Feser’s attempted distinction between the “contrary use” of a faculty and an “other than use” in an attempt to defang some of the usual mirth-provoking counterexamples to Natural Law Theory. Is using one’s mouth and teeth to pull something immoral because running counter to the telos of the mouth and teeth? No, Feser claims, because the pulling is a use that is merely other than, not contrary to the telos of the mouth and teeth. Skalko correctly points out that it is open to the person denying the immorality of homosexual acts to assert that the “use” of the reproductive organs in gay sex is an other-than use, not a contrary use of those organs. This objection will remain as long as what “contrary to” is left indefinite, not easily distinguishable from “other than”. Of course, Skalko thinks he has come up with an account of ‘contrary to’ that is adequate to his need (and I use the word “need” advisably) to defend the immorality of homosexual acts. In a later post, I intend to show that Skalko is quite mistaken. For now, I would like to point out that making ‘hydrating’ and ‘dehydraing’ contraries of one oather, like balck and whie or hold and cold, does nothing to defang the drinking salt water ounterexample [Link]. The Natural Lawyer would need to assert that drinking a glass of salt water is immoral; but talk about “contraries” and “powers” does nothung to render this assertion harmlessly non-risible. Doubling down into the Thomistic jargon does nothing to aid the Natural Lawyer.

If one is to know that x is “contrary” to the purpose of an act, organ, or faculty o, one must first know what the functional purpose of o is. The aging sperm example shows that one did not know what the functional purpose of wet dreams, masturbation, homosexual acts are. Poor Skalko wants a clear principle to show when x is contrary to o, but there will always be this cloud of doubt.]

So we are left with “ignorant” and “dishonest”.

Probably more dishonest (self-gaslighting) than stupid. Phenomenon of self-deception. But we still have to discern what the first passage is saying.

John S., aka Mr. ThomisticNaturalLawEthics (his nom de plum on Medium):

John Skalko’s interpretation of that passage from Plato’s Phaedrus is so bad that one is forced to ocnlue Skalko is either incompetent or dishonest. That he is not stupid is shown by his critique of Edward Feser. So we are left with dishonest. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I will asssume he is gaslighting himself.

For Plato homoerotic eros is the robin, heteroerotic is the ostrich.

In his book *DISORDERED ACTIONS A Moral Analysis Of Lying And Homosexual Activity*, John Skalko tries to articulate a version of Natural Law Theory that will secure both the conclusion that “homosexual activity” is immoral, and that lying is immoral. As part of this effort, Skalko asserts that arguments from authority have gotten a bad rap, since the fact that a person is an expert in a field means that their assertion that p services as legitimate evidence for the truth of p. Philosophers are experts in the field of morality, Skalko claims. Therefore, their near-unanimous (!) condemnation of homosexuality should be taken seriously as legitimate evidence for the immorality of “homosexuality”.

Unfortunately, Skalko’s attempt to enlist Plato and Aristotle as naysayers to “homosexuality” is grossly, even comically inept, raising questions as to how reliable are his interpretations of the other authors he cites. I discuss here Skalko’s incompetence in trying to force Aristotle into the “same-sex eros boo!” camp on the basis of a corrupt text in which at least one crucial word word is missing, and that world may not be the only one. Skalko does not even mention Martha Nussbaum (a classicist and philosopher of the first rank) and Kenneth Dover (a classicist of the first rank), who pointed out the corruption of the relevant passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, for which no critical edition apparently exists. Heavy hitters such as Nussbaum, Dover, and Carrier think that most probably Aristotle was not asserting, in the text, that homosexual acts are immoral. What Carrier sees as lacking in the scholarship of Edward Feser also applies to John Skalko, and to Christianist apologists generally:

…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.

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/18356

I intend to show that Skalko’s attempt to place Plato on record as belonging to the “same-sex eros boo!” camp based on the following passage from the *PHAEDRUS* dialogue suffers from just these faults.

Anyone who was initiated long ago or who has been corrupted is not given to moving rapidly from here to there, towards beauty as it really is. Instead, he gazes on its namesake here on earth, and the upshot is that the sight does not arouse reverence in him. No, he surrenders to pleasure and tries like an animal to mount his partner and to father offspring, and having becoming habituated to excess he is not afraid or ashamed to pursue unnatural pleasures.

Plato, Phaedrus 250e-251a, as quoted by John Skalko, 2019, pp. 26-27. Emphasis added by Skalko.

What ‘moving rapidly from here to there’ means, and why having been initiated — whatever that is — a long time ago would be a hindrance to this movement I will explain in the course of his essay, as I discuss Plato’s mythic/poetic imagery in the *PHAEDRUS* and the theory of the forms adumbrated there. For the nonce, I want to point out some the the red flags that ave just popped up. The most conspicuous red flag is “…tries like an animal to mount his partner and to father offspring….’ This is supposed to be a passage critical of homosexuality??? Last time I heard, heterosexuality is the best option to pursue if one is to try to father offspring. And while it has recently become known that homosexuality is widespread in the animal kingdom, I somehow doubt that Plato knew this. Surely he was not aware of gay penguins. Saying that the person whose soul has been corrupted “…tries to mount and to spawn children according to the law of a four-footed animal” (as a different translation of the *PHAEDRUS* puts it ((Plato, *PLATO’s PHAEDRUS*, Stephen Scully, trans. (((Indianapolis, Hackett, 2003))), p. 31.))) sounds more like a way of saying “Ew, heterosexuality — gross! How bestial! Breeders are disgusting!”, not “Ew, homosexuality — gross!”

As it turns out, Plato regards the strictly physical act, either same-sex or opposite-sex, as gross. That he regards as gross the physical act performed in an opposite-sex coupling is shown by the passage above, in which he compares to a four-footed animal the person who mounts his partner like a four-footed and tries to spawn children.

Plato does attribute a certain grossness, or at least lack of perfection, to the same-sex physical act. To see what he regards as the imperfection, consider what he regards as the perfect same-sex relationship. The following assumes a certain amount of prior knowledge on the part of you, Dear Reader, regarding Plato’s imagery and of his Theory of the Forms. I will be explaining both towards the end of this essay-post.

The perfect same-sex relationship would be one in which the “charioteer” of the lover (i.e., his soul) has completely subdued and “enslaved” the dark horse of the pair (one white horse, one black horse) pulling the chariot. The dark horse of course stands for the physical passions, urges, and sexual desparations. The beloved would let the lover do anything to him; but the lover, obeying the virtuous “white horse” side of his nature, exercises complete, i.e., perfect restraint. This restraint gives the lovers access to every excellence:

So if the better parts of discursive thinking prevail, as they lead towards a regimented life and a love of wisdom, then all involved enjoy a blessed and harmonious life here on earth. Self-composed and master of themselves, they have enslaved what enables viciousness to enter the soul, and they have liberated what allows excellence access. When they die, now winged and buoyant they have won the first round of the three wrestling falls in these, the true Olympic Games. There is no greater good than this that either mortal moderation or divine madness can provide a human being

*PHAEDRUS*, 256a-256b

The highest rank is given to that same-sex attraction between male lover and male beloved whose emotional intensity brings both to a kind of divine madness but is never expressed physically. When this sophrosyne is breached just every now and then, the lovers’ relationship still ranks highly in Plato’s esteem — but just not quite as highly when the same-sex attraction remains purely spiritual. Unlike the lovers whose eros and divine madness are purely spiritual, the lovers whose eros is sparingly physical do not grow wings upon death. But in time, as they “…lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other…” Plato, Phaedrus, 256e) a “common plumage” will grow from their love (256e).

Perfection of course is for the gods and the near-gods, so most of us will not be achieving the very highest rank of human being, i.e., someone who loves wisdom. Accepting our imperfection and the lack of absolute harmony in our souls, we love, say, honor instead. Two moderately imperfect same-sex lovers (for the dialogue, with the exception of that brief mention of obeying the law of the four-footed animals, stays on track discussing same-sex love and friendship) may, in an unguarded moment — perhaps drunk — do the deed. They will continue to have physical relations with one another for the rest of their lives. But these will be sparing, since they “do not approve with their full mind”. They would prefer to be god-like most of the time; animal-like just every now and then.

Perhaps the best analogy is this: Suppose those who love wisdom best are so god-like that they can subsist on an ethereal ambrosia. Anything heavier would make them more animal-like, less god-like. Then there are those who succumb to the temptation to eat more solid flesh and vegetables. They do so with restraint, however, avoiding becoming gluttonous, gross pigs. There is still a certain lightness to their being, a measure of the god-like, though the animal-like is not totally absent. Then there are the gluttonous, gross pigs, eating absolutely everything and anything. Four-footed, their vision is downward. Those whom they “mount” as they heed a rather earth-bound, mundane concern to spawn children doubtlessly feel their heaviness. Their minds are not on higher things. Their spirits do not soar like eagles.

Excess and lack of restraint are the baddies for this group, not physical sex per se. Excess end up weighing them down. Plato seems to imply that at death they will “return to the dark path under the earth”. Wingless, and perhaps not even longing to grow wings again.

But those in the middle-group, though also wingless at death, will experience an existence or “life” in something that sounds like the “Elysian Fields”. They “…shall lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other, and from their love shall grow, in due time, common plumage”.

But if they adopt a more coarse way of life, one that loves honor and not wisdom, then perhaps when drunk or in some other careless hour the couple’s two unbridled horses will catch their souls unguarded and lead them forward to the same thing, namely to seize upon and carry out a course of action which an consider most blissful. And when they carried out this act once, they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives, though sparingly, since they do not approve of this with their full mind. When in love and later when out of love, these two also go through life as friends with each other, although not so close as the philosophic couple, believing that they have given to each other and have received the greatest pledges which it would be a crime to break and feel enmity. In death, their souls are wingless, and yet they are eager to sprout feathers as they leave their bodies, so that actually they have not carried off a small prize for their erotic madness. It is the law for those who have already begun their journey in lower heaven that they shall not return to the dark path under the earth, but shall lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other, and from their love shall grow, in due time, common plumage

*PHAEDRUS*, 256c-256e (pp. 38-39)

Clearly, Plato cannot be condemning same-sex eros in the Skalko passage when just a few lines later he tells us that same-sex couples who do the deed with one another (but with restraint) will lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other. It will be obvious by now to the attentive reader that the Skalko passage is disparaging not same-sex eros — not even physical same-sex eros — but excess and lack of restraint.

Skalko’s incompetence here is jaw-dropping. As I show here, Skalko betrays the same level of incompetence when he tries to shanghai Aristotle into serving as an “expert witness” testifying against homosexuality.

Appropos is Richard Yettle Chappell’s point regarding the character of the person making an argument as incredibly bad as this is.

Further, I think insults aren’t always inappropriate. Creationists and homophobes, for example, tend to make revealingly bad arguments. In critiquing these arguments, we first aim to show why the conclusion doesn’t follow. But we are also in a position to draw a conclusion about the character of the person advancing the argument. Many arguments are so bad that they could not be honestly made by any informed rational person. Thus anyone who makes them must be either stupid, ignorant, or dishonest. In the course of criticising such an argument, a partisan may wish to point this out, just to emphasize how incredibly bad the argument really is. I don’t think it’s necessary wrong to do so. Some positions are so lacking in rational warrant that they deserve our scorn.

https://www.philosophyetc.net/…/attacks-and-arguments.html

Skalko is not stupid or ignorant, at least not consistently so. In *DISORDERED ACTIONS*, the same book where he makes these ludicrous claims about Plato and Aristotle, he also cogently dismantles Edwards Feser’s distinction between ‘contrary to’ and ‘other than’ purposes, a distinction Feser makes in an attempt to defang the usual mirth-provoking counterexamples to Natural Law Theory.

This leaves dishonest — certainly an irony given the fact that Skalko’s book attempts to show that both homosexualty and lying are immoral on Natural Law grounds. Accustomed to preaching to the choir, an author can let their standards slip enough that they fail to exercise due diligence. Skalko may have encountered a passage of text someplace quoting the “Skalko passage” from the *PHAEDRUS*, and failed to read anything more in that dialog. It certainly did not occur to him that reading just a few lines further into the text would have forced a completely different interpretation of the passage.

Dishonest? Maybe I should have said political. If Skalko’s politics and ideology align with the radical integralists with whom he shares a publisher, that may have made him less than totally enthusiastic about challenging an integralist interpretation of a particular passage in Plato or Aristotle by looking at the context or considering factors such as missing words. Extremist political and religious ideologies can easily make for readings that are tendentious to the extreme. Whatever the reason, Skalko’s Plato and Aristotle scholarship is certainly substandard.

What The Does “Unnatural” Mean In Skalko’s PHAEDRUS Passage?

Having established Skalko’s unreliability as an interpreter of Plato and Aristotle, I would like now to tie up one loose end. Plainly the phrase “unnatural pleasures” leapt out at Skalko, when he first encountered the “Skalko passage”. Importing Thomistic Natural Law Theory (of all things) into the *PHAEDRUS*, Skalko apparently read that phrase as meaning “the pleasures of homosexual sex”, and assumed his readers would as well. I have just shown that Plato is not likely to be using “unnatural pleasures” to condemn or een disparage physical homoerotic acts per se only to tell us a few lines later that those performing those acts with sufficient restraint and moderation will enter the equivalent of the Elysian fields.

But if Plato was not condemning physical homosexual eros as immoral, or disparaging it as the lowest of the low, what, then, does “unnatural pleasures” mean? We know now what it does not mean — but what does it mean?

Maybe Plato is using the phrase in the way the Apostle Paul does, when he says that long hair is “unnatural” in men, that is to say, it is not customary for men to have long hair. Perhaps Plato is making an oblique reference to men who prefer to play the passive role in sex. This would have been regarded as shameful (though not necessarily as immoral) and definitely not customary among men, a practice to fear entering into. “Unnatural” in the sense of departing greatly from a norm engrained by custom and so lowering one in the esteem of his fellows.

Another avenue into the mean of “unnatural” in the Skalko passage is provided by what Heidegger claims to be the pre-Socratic meaning of “physis”, i.e., “nature”. I see a trace of this pre-Socratic meaning as persisting in the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS”, with Plato eventually moving away from that meaning and towards a more rigid Thomistic meaning. To make sense of all of this, I would like to discuss physin in relation to Plato’s theory of the Forms. So a brief discussion of the latter will be necessary,

However, Skalko’s interpretation of this passage is directly falsified just a few pages later in the dialogue, where Plato ranks (or has Socrates rank) the varieties of homoerotic eros. The highest rank is given to that same-sex attraction between male lovermeaning that it is not customary for men to have long hair. and male beloved whose emotional intensity brings both to a kind of divine madness but is never expressed physically. When this sophrosyne is breached just every now and then, the lovers’ relationship still ranks highly in Plato’s esteem — but just not quite as highly when the same-sex attraction remains purely spiritual. Unlike the lovers whose eros and divine madness are purely spiritual, the lovers whose eros is sparingly physical do not grow wings upon death. But in time, as they “…lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other…” Plato, Phaedrus, 256e) a “common plumage” will grow from their love (256e).

And as I will be showing in a few paragraphs, Plato allows same-sex couples to engage in physical sex, as long as restraint is exercised.

A more finely nuanced view of what Plato is saying in the above passage can be gained, first, by looking at the various and sundry meanings “natural” (kata physin) and “unnatural” (para physin) had in the Greek-speaking ancient world; and second by looking at the immediate context in the *PHAEDRUS* of the above passage.

One way to grasp the meaning that nature as physis had in the ancient world is to contrast it with artifacts, as is done here from a Heideggerian point of view. In the following, I have elided some of the (maybe) more idiosyncratic Heideggerian phrasing, and retained the British spelling of the commentator. I am not always a huge fan of Heidegger’s word analyses, and am far from sufficiently expert to pretend to be a final authority on the cogency of the following as an analyis of “physin” in the ancient Greek-speaking world. I submit it because it is enormously suggestive, so I am curious to see how well it fares in the critical acid baths that may ensue.

The commentator, Alison Stone, has Heidegger claiming that, for the pre-Socratics, nature or “physis” is “…a kind of movement, but one that comes from within nature itself (not from any exterior source)…” It is a “spontaneous process….” “…In contrast, artefacts have a different way of coming into being – through being made by a craftsperson who uses skill to realise a pre-existing blueprint…The movement (into presence) of artefacts does not come from themselves but from this pre-existing idea, aided by the craftsperson”.

The key word here is “movement”. The plant’s emergence from a seed below the ground into the light of day is a kind of movement that does not come from any exterior source, but from the seed itself. At each stage the movement results in something well-formed (what I take “morphe” to mean, and is “…essentially genesis, the spontaneous process…” of emerging “…into the light of day”. The formation of an artifact, however, is no such spontaneous process of “genesis”.

Or again, water flows downhill by nature, trhat is to say, of its own accord. Water flows downhill of itself, and will fail to do so only when “artifactually” aka artificially constrained by a blockage of some sort such as a dam.

I employ the metaphor of water naturally (kata physin) moving downhill, but Plato employs what Stephen Scully regards as some double entendres metaphors to place the natural movement of the soul in response to beauty in the opposite direction — upward.

Phallus image 1.

Phallas image 2. Swelling.

Phalllus image 3. Making things rise

Reality intrudes.

Nonetheless.

The soul moves towards beauty of itself. It fails to do so only when it is corrupted in some way, and has been reduced to the level of those breeder four-footed beasts. Face to the ground, not looking upward in longing and aspiration, is the unnatural state.

What, then, is being referred to by “unnatural pleasures”? Surely that is a reference to homosexuality, is it not? So one possible interpretation of the above passage is as follows: given over to and used to excess, the person with the corrupted soul will fuck anything and everything, engaging in “unnatural” acts as well as those presumably “natural” acts our four-footed friends allegedly engage in exclusively. Caught up in frenzy of excess. Perhaps also a bit jaded by sex of the natural persuasion. ,

First: Dr. Lyn M. Kidson discusses what the words meant in the ancient world here, here, and here. It is clear that the Natural Lawyer would be foolish to assume, without evidence or analysis, that para physin has much of anything, if at all, to do with the medieval Natural Law Theory with its insistence that the male parts fit with the female parts. I don’t think it would be too wild an extrapolation from Dr. Kidson’s analysis that the “natural” (kata physin) relates to the “unnatural” (para physin, or “outside of” or “besides” nature or going beyond it and maybe even going “against” it) as water flowing downhill relates to water being forced to move uphill. Your mileage may vary, Dear Reader. What arises of itself in an orderly, predictable, well-formed way. Deep expectation. Contrast with artifacts, whose shaping and development depend upon a craftsman who has an blueprint in mind that the artifact needs to conform to. Plato may be starting the devolution to seeing everything as an artifact (of the demiourgos, or of a god, or whatever). Including us, unfortunately. But the upward growth and wings and fluid double-entendres show that, at least pre-*LAWS*, Plato has not arrived at that point yet. The “power” Eros, in all its vitality, is not yet an artifact “residing, as it does according to Mr. Skalko, in the penis. The soul is eternal, after all, existing prior to its finding itself in the material world. It is not an artifact.

Second: the context is Plato’s mythological explanation of our knowledge of the Forms, e.g., the Good itself, Beauty itself, Justice itself. Even Mud itself, though we won’t find Plato dealing with that here. (You should, dear Reader, look up what Reginald Allen has to say about ‘Mud itself’ as a genuine platonic Form in his analysis of the dialogue *PARMENIDES*.) The things we bump against in the material world relate to the Forms as reflections in a mirror related to the thing reflected. That is to say, their being is wholly relational and derivative from the Forms. The Forms by contracts have a substantial being — they can exist without the things reflected just as the person looking in the mirror an do just fine without their mirror reflection. Substantial, they are what is “really real”, the things that are in the non-muddled sense of “is”, while particular material things are just sort-of-kind-of real — real in a muddled way. Names such as “beauty” or “justice” are really names of their corresponding Form, e.g., Beauty itself or Justice itself. Particular beautiful or just things are named after the Form they “participate in” or “reflect. They are namesakes of the real thing, just as we may call a person working on a canvas after an exemplary painter (as in “Picasso over there is hard at work on his canvas).

Motion. Water flows downhill of itself, and will fail to do so only when “artifactually” aka artificially constrained by a blockage of some sort such as a dam. The soul moves towards beauty of itself. It fails to do so only when it is corrupted in some way, and has been reduced to the level of those breeder four-footed beasts. Face to the ground, not looking upward in longing and aspiration, is the unnatural state.

Every human soul has had a non-material, pre-natal existence during which it experienced a direct “vision” of the Forms. The vision the soul had then of Beauty itself in all its radiance was beatific. There is something ecstatic about the vision of beauty. To glimpse beauty itself through one of itse namesakes call after it is to be in a state of transport, “…conveyed quickly to beauty itself”, “carried from here to there (to the realm of the Forms, though of course not materially) quickly. This is part of the nature of beauty itself — to be transported this way is the equivalent of watr flowing downhill. A deep expectiation stemming from what beauty is, something with the power to draw.

One feels awe and reverencce in the god-like face of a clear reflection of beauty itself.

But … sometone who has amply observed thngs fromt aht past realm, at first shudders and feels something of thos old terrors come over him when he sees a go-like face or any pr of the body which is a good imitation fo beauty. Oter, looking mor, he feels rerence as if he were before a god and, if he ere not afraid to appear ecessivey mad, he would sacrifice to his darling boy as if to … a god.

For example, one may gasp — feel reverence and awe — in the face of Channing Taum, as if one were in the presenc eof a god:

And if you do not, then I am sorry . There is something wrong with you. Your vidion of beiguty itself is well past its expriation date. Throuigh whatever accidents and incidents,w ahtever instices, your sould has become corrupted. It no longer exists in the eperion light.

Not getting vonveyed is the queivalent of forcing wather uphill, perhaps bty way of a dam, a blockage. Whatever is keeping the corrupt sould from getting transported goes counter to the natur eo beauty. It is unnatrual.

It is in this unnatnural state that one yields to the grossly pgysial aather than soaring into the empyrioni Mounts — feel the weight! Four-footed — how close to the ground! No wings here — not even in aspriation!

f analysis of physin as a risinug up.]

Transport from here to there is the soul’s natural state in response to beauty — is water flowing downhill. This transport is deeply expected.

That is what happens, that is, to that extent that the body which impresions the soul like the shell of an oyster does not get in the way.

But one only has to place this passage in its context to realize that Skalko’s interpretation of it as critical of “homosexuality” is tendentious to the extreme. The context is the soul’s pre-natal vision of the forms — beauty itself, justice itself, the good itself, and so on. Generally “the things that are”. That the human soul has already viewed the things that are is a thorough-going expectation, since only those souls that have viewed these will have “come into this life form” from their previous existence as viewers of the forms:

And as we have said, by our very nature every human soul has already viewed the things which are; or else she wouldn’t have come into this life form.

Plato, Phaedrus 249e-250a. Emphasis added by me.

The Greek kata physin has a number of meanings, among which is ‘unfolding from an inherent principle’, has the expected characteristics.’ [Link to engendered. Ox tails, for example. ] If you will permit me to reach into the 19th and 20th centureis, Dear Reader, it likewise belongs to the very nature of the English peppered moth to adopt the coloration of the tree bark it is residing on. Any moth that does not do this will quickly become breakfast for a predator. This winnowing process creates a deep expectation for what one will find as they observe English peppered moths. The norm is for the observer to see moths that have acquired the coloration of the tree bark on which they reside. The peppered moth that does not is definitely a short-lived exception to the norm. Not a normal moth, where :normal” means “not an exception”, and “exception” means “not adhering to the norm”. It is not too much of a stretch to say that it belongs to the very nature of an English Peppered moth to adopt the coloration of the bark

Now beautiful things in our ealthly realm are reflections of the form ‘beatuty itself’. What beatuy itself is is something that holds us in thrall. We gasp. These reflections stirr in us a memory of ouir vision of beauty itself, and we gasp. We are startled. Memory of divine radiance.

Unfortunately, in our earthly existence, it is all too easy to forget the sacred things we saw when we beheld the forms. Someone who has not beheld beauty itself for a long time, or who has become corrupted, will not experience this startled reaction. Your mileage may vary, Dear Reader, but I have always wondered about those unfortunate souls who cannot recognize Channing Tatum as the clearest reflection on earth either have become corrupted, or have not refreshed their memeoy of trhe forms or a very, very long time.

What is the “expected” or “normal” behavior of one who is still “half drunk” from his sight of Beauty itself, beauty as it really is?But

Homosexual actions sound pretty bad, then. Performed for the sake of pleasure, they reduce one to the status of an animal. One engages in them when any inclination towards moderation or restraint has been worn away by a habitual indulgence in excess. Just as bad, these actions are unnatural, so they must be immoral. This is, after all, the “…nearly unanimous consensus among philosophers throughout history…” (Skalko. p. 26). Because these philosophers are the experts in the field of ethics, we must respect their authority.

Or so Skalko would have it.

However, Skalko’s interpretation of this passage is directly falsified just a few pages later in the dialogue, where Plato ranks (or has Socrates rank) the varieties of homoerotic eros. The highest rank is given to that same-sex attraction between male lover and male beloved whose emotional intensity brings both to a kind of divine madness but is never expressed physically. When this sophrosyne is breached just every now and then, the lovers’ relationship still ranks highly in Plato’s esteem — but just not quite as highly when the same-sex attraction remains purely spiritual. Unlike the lovers whose eros and divine madness are purely spiritual, the lovers whose eros is sparingly physical do not grow wings upon death. But in time, as they “…lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other…” Plato, Phaedrus, 256e) a “common plumage” will grow from their love (256e).

One vision of a “bright life in blessed journeys with each other” is Walt Whitman’s:

WE two boys together clinging,	 
One the other never leaving,	 
Up and down the roads going—North and South excursions making,	 
Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutching,	 
Arm’d and fearless—eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,	         5
No law less than ourselves owning—sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,	 
Misers, menials, priests alarming—air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,	 
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,	 
Fulfilling our foray.

If the journey itself is more significant than the destination, the destiny of the lovers whose eros is physical in moderation may perhaps be preferred to those whose eros is purely spiritual. Real fulfillment requires the body. Thinking of the body as just a dry husk in which the soul abides for a while is a mistake.

Be that as it may, it is plain that the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS* is far, far from disparaging “homosexual acts”, much less regarding them as immoral. Plato’s discussion of the not-purely spiritual lovers is dispositive in this regard. Clearly, Skalko was not reading the 251e-252a passage in its context, an omission that reveals a stunning degree of incompetence. Richard Yettle Chappell’s point regarding the character of the person making an argument as incredibly bad as this is apppropos.

Further, I think insults aren’t always inappropriate. Creationists and homophobes, for example, tend to make revealingly bad arguments. In critiquing these arguments, we first aim to show why the conclusion doesn’t follow. But we are also in a position to draw a conclusion about the character of the person advancing the argument. Many arguments are so bad that they could not be honestly made by any informed rational person. Thus anyone who makes them must be either stupid, ignorant, or dishonest. In the course of criticising such an argument, a partisan may wish to point this out, just to emphasize how incredibly bad the argument really is. I don’t think it’s necessary wrong to do so. Some positions are so lacking in rational warrant that they deserve our scorn.

https://www.philosophyetc.net/…/attacks-and-arguments.html

Skalko manifestss the same faults that Richard Carrier accues Edwasrd Feser of:

…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.

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/18356

Skalko is a repeat offender in the incompetence arena. In basing his similar reading of Aristotle as an “expert witness” decrying the “immorality” of homosexual acts, on a corrupt text, he does not even mention Martha Nussbaum (a classicist and philosopher of the first rank) and Kenneth Dover (a classicist of the first rank), who pointed out the corruption of the relevant passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, for which no critical edition apparently exists. At least one crucial word is missing from the text Skalko relies on; and that word may not be the only one missing. Heavy hitters such as Nussbaum, Dover, and Carrier think that most probably Aristotle was not asserting, in the text, that homosexual acts are immoral. (cf [Link])

Wallace Stevens, “The Creations of Sound”

If the poetry of X was music,
So that it came to him of its own,
Without understanding, out of the wall

Or in the ceiling, in sounds not chosen,
Or chosen quickly, in a freedom
That was their element, we should not know

That X is an obstruction, a man
Too exactly himself, and that there are words
Better without an author, without a poet,

Or having a separate author, a different poet,
An accretion from ourselves, intelligent
Beyond intelligence, an artificial man

At a distance, a secondary expositor,
A being of sound, whom one does not approach
Through any exaggeration. From him, we collect.

Tell X that speech is not dirty silence
Clarified. It is silence made dirtier.
It is more than an imitation for the ear.

He lacks this venerable complication.
His poems are not of the second part of life.
They do not make the visible a little hard

To see nor, reverberating, eke out the mind
Or peculiar horns, themselves eked out
By the spontaneous particulars of sound.

We do not say ourselves like that in poems.
We say ourselves in syllables that rise
From the floor, rising in speech we do not speak.


Things That Natural Lawyers Say (5): No, John Skalko Is Not A Competent Plato Scholar — Why Do You Ask?

Silly Natural Lawyer — Don’t You Know That An Angel In Heaven Does A Facepalm Every Time You Behave Like A Hack And Proffer A Completely Incompetent Reading Of Plato Or Aristotle?

In his book *DISORDERED ACTIONS A Moral Analysis Of Lying And Homosexual Activity*, John Skalko tries to articulate a version of Natural Law Theory that will secure both the conclusion that “homosexual activity” is immoral, and that lying is immoral. As part of this effort, Skalko asserts that arguments from authority have gotten a bad rap, since the fact that a person is an expert in a field means that their assertion that p services as legitimate evidence for the truth of p. Philosophers are experts in the field of morality, Skalko claims. Therefore, their near-unanimous (!) condemnation of homosexuality should be taken seriously as legitimate evidence for the immorality of “homosexuality”.

Unfortunately, Skalko’s attempt to enlist Plato and Aristotle as naysayers to “homosexuality” is grossly, even comically inept, raising questions as to how reliable are his interpretations of the other authors he cites. I discuss here Skalko’s incompetence in trying to force Aristotle into the “same-sex eros boo!” camp on the basis of a corrupt text in which at least one crucial word word is missing — and that word may not be the only one. Skalko does not even mention Martha Nussbaum (a classicist and philosopher of the first rank) and Kenneth Dover (a classicist of the first rank), who pointed out the corruption of the relevant passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, for which no critical edition apparently exists. Heavy hitters such as Nussbaum, Dover, and Carrier think that most probably Aristotle was not asserting, in the text, that homosexual acts are immoral. What Carrier sees as lacking in the scholarship of Edward Feser also applies to John Skalko, and to Christianist apologists generally:

…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.

https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/18356

In this essay-post, I show that Skalko’s attempt to place Plato on record as belonging to the “same-sex eros boo!” camp based on the following passage from the *PHAEDRUS* dialogue suffers from just these faults. In this passage (henceforth the “Skalko passage from the *PHAEDRUS”) Skalko plainly thinks we should read the phase “unnatural pleasures” as meaning “the pleasures of homosexual sex”:

Anyone who was initiated long ago or who has been corrupted is not given to moving rapidly from here to there, towards beauty as it really is. Instead, he gazes on its namesake here on earth, and the upshot is that the sight does not arouse reverence in him. No, he surrenders to pleasure and tries like an animal to mount his partner and to father offspring, and having becoming habituated to excess he is not afraid or ashamed to pursue unnatural pleasures.

Plato, *Phaedrus*, 250e-251a, as quoted by John Skalko, 2019, pp. 26-27. Emphasis added by Skalko.

What ‘moving rapidly from here to there’ means, and why having been initiated — whatever that is — a long time ago would be a hindrance to this movement I will explain in the course of the next essay-post, as I discuss Plato’s mythic/poetic imagery in the *PHAEDRUS* and the theory of the Forms adumbrated there. For the nonce, I want to point out some the the red flags that have just popped up.

The most conspicuous red flag is “…tries like an animal to mount his partner and to father offspring….’ This is supposed to be a passage critical of homosexuality??? Last time I heard, heterosexuality is the best option to pursue if one is to try to father offspring. And while it has recently become known that homosexuality is widespread in the animal kingdom, I somehow doubt that Plato knew this. Surely he was not aware of gay penguins. Saying that the person whose soul has been corrupted “…tries to mount and to spawn children according to the law of a four-footed animal” (as a different translation of the *PHAEDRUS* puts it ((Plato, *PLATO’s PHAEDRUS*, Stephen Scully, trans. (((Indianapolis, Hackett, 2003))), p. 31.))) sounds more like a way of saying “Ew, heterosexuality — gross! How bestial! Breeders are disgusting!”, not “Ew, homosexuality — gross!”

As it turns out, Plato regards the strictly physical act, either same-sex or opposite-sex, as gross. That he regards as gross the physical act performed in an opposite-sex coupling is shown by the passage above, in which he compares to a four-footed animal the person who mounts his partner and tries to spawn children.

Plato does attribute a certain grossness, or at least lack of perfection, to the same-sex physical act. To see what he regards as the imperfection, consider what he regards as the perfect same-sex relationship. The following assumes a certain amount of prior knowledge on the part of you, Dear Reader, regarding Plato’s imagery and of his Theory of the Forms. I will be explaining both in the essay-post that will follow this one.

The perfect same-sex relationship would be one in which the “charioteer” of the lover (i.e., his soul) has completely subdued and “enslaved” the dark horse of the pair (one white horse, one black horse) pulling the chariot. The dark horse of course stands for the physical passions, urges, and sexual desparations. The beloved would let the lover do anything to him; but the lover, obeying the virtuous “white horse” side of his nature, exercises complete, i.e., perfect restraint. This restraint gives the lovers access to every excellence:

So if the better parts of discursive thinking prevail, as they lead towards a regimented life and a love of wisdom, then all involved enjoy a blessed and harmonious life here on earth. Self-composed and master of themselves, they have enslaved what enables viciousness to enter the soul, and they have liberated what allows excellence access. When they die, now winged and buoyant they have won the first round of the three wrestling falls in these, the true Olympic Games. There is no greater good than this that either mortal moderation or divine madness can provide a human being

*PHAEDRUS*, 256a-256b

The highest rank is given to that same-sex attraction between male lover and male beloved whose emotional intensity brings both to a kind of divine madness but is never expressed physically. When this sophrosyne is breached just every now and then, the lovers’ relationship still ranks highly in Plato’s esteem — but just not quite as highly when the same-sex attraction remains purely spiritual. Unlike the lovers whose eros and divine madness are purely spiritual, the lovers whose eros is sparingly physical do not grow wings upon death. But in time, as they “…lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other…” Plato, Phaedrus, 256e) a “common plumage” will grow from their love (256e).

Perfection of course is for the gods and the near-gods, so most of us will not be achieving the very highest rank of human being, i.e., someone who loves wisdom. Accepting our imperfection and the lack of absolute harmony in our souls, we love, say, honor instead. Two moderately imperfect same-sex lovers (for the dialogue, with the exception of that brief mention of obeying the law of the four-footed animals, stays on track discussing same-sex love and friendship only) may, in an unguarded moment — perhaps drunk — do the deed. They will continue to have physical relations with one another for the rest of their lives. But these will be sparing, since they “do not approve with their full mind”. They would prefer to be god-like most of the time; animal-like just every now and then.

Perhaps the best analogy is this: Suppose those who love wisdom best are so god-like that they can subsist on an ethereal ambrosia. Anything heavier would make them more animal-like, less god-like. Then there are those who succumb to the temptation to eat more solid flesh and vegetables. They do so with restraint, however, avoiding becoming gluttonous, gross pigs. There is still a certain lightness to their being, a measure of the god-like, though the animal-like is not totally absent. Then there are the gluttonous, gross pigs, eating and f*cking absolutely everything and anything. Four-footed, their vision is downward. Those whom they “mount” (the mountees) as the mounters heed a rather earth-bound, mundane concern to spawn children doubtlessly feel their partners’ heaviness. The minds of neither are on higher things. Their spirits do not soar like eagles.

Excess and lack of restraint are the baddies for this group, not physical sex per se. Excess end up weighing them down. Plato seems to imply that at death they will “return to the dark path under the earth”. Wingless, and perhaps not even longing to grow wings again.

But those in the middle-group, though also wingless at death, will experience an existence or “life” in something that sounds like the “Elysian Fields”. They “…shall lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other, and from their love shall grow, in due time, common plumage”.

But if they adopt a more coarse way of life, one that loves honor and not wisdom, then perhaps when drunk or in some other careless hour the couple’s two unbridled horses will catch their souls unguarded and lead them forward to the same thing, namely to seize upon and carry out a course of action which an consider most blissful. And when they carried out this act once, they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives, though sparingly, since they do not approve of this with their full mind. When in love and later when out of love, these two also go through life as friends with each other, although not so close as the philosophic couple, believing that they have given to each other and have received the greatest pledges which it would be a crime to break and feel enmity. In death, their souls are wingless, and yet they are eager to sprout feathers as they leave their bodies, so that actually they have not carried off a small prize for their erotic madness. It is the law for those who have already begun their journey in lower heaven that they shall not return to the dark path under the earth, but shall lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other, and from their love shall grow, in due time, common plumage

*PHAEDRUS*, 256c-256e (pp. 38-39)

Walt Whitman does not mention a common plumage growing from the common love in the following poem of the two boys together clinging,/ One the other never leaving…. But he does seem to be talking about a “bright life [spent] in blessed journeys with each other”:

WE two boys together clinging,	 
One the other never leaving,	 
Up and down the roads going—North and South excursions making,	 
Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutching,	 
Arm’d and fearless—eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,	      
No law less than ourselves owning—sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,	 
Misers, menials, priests alarming—air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,	 
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,	 
Fulfilling our foray.

Doubtlessly the two lovers in the *PHAEDRUS* will be fulfilling lots of forays, though Whitman may be emphasizing the sweat and musculature of the boys more than Plato would have.

Be that as it may, it is plain that the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS* is far, far from disparaging “homosexual acts”, much less regarding them as immoral. Plato’s discussion of the not-purely spiritual lovers is dispositive in this regard. Clearly, Plato cannot be condemning same-sex eros in the Skalko passage when just a few lines later he tells us that same-sex couples who do the deed with one another (but with restraint) will lead a bright life in blessed journeys with each other. It will be obvious by now to the attentive reader that the Skalko passage is disparaging not same-sex eros — not even physical same-sex eros — but excess and lack of restraint.

Skalko’s incompetence here is jaw-dropping. And as I mentioned Skalko betrays the same jaw-dropping level of incompetence when he tries to shanghai Aristotle into serving as an “expert witness” testifying against homosexuality. But wait — it gets worse. Equally dispositive evidence occurs within the same paragraph of the text Skalko quotes with the aim of showing that Plato is anti-gay!!! This merits not one, but three exclamation marks to underscore just how egregious Skalko’s blunder is:

But the recent initiate, someone who has amply observed things from that past realm, at first shudders and feels something of those old terrors come over him when he sees a god-like face or any part of the body which is a good imitation of beauty. Later, looking more, he feels reverence as if he were before a god and, if he were not afraid to appear excessively mad, he would sacrifice to his darling boy as if to a statue and a god. As is natural after his cold shudder, a change, accompanied by sweat and unaccustomed fever, comes over him as he looks. At the same time, he is warmed as he receives the in-flowing of beauty through the eyes. From the in-flowing, the natural power of the wing is altered and with this warmth the scabbing around the projection which sometime before had hardened and closed up, preventing blooming, begins to melt away. With the in-flowing nourishment the wing’s stalk under the surface of the soul begins to swell and to feel the urge to grow from its roots. At one time, you know, the entire soul was winged. In this state the whole soul boils and throbs violently — not unlike the itching and aching irritation around the gums that a child feels when he begins to teethe. That’s the same sensation which the soul feels when her wings begin to sprout: she boils, aches, and itches. So, whenever a soul looks at a boy’s beauty she is watered and warmed from this as she takes in these in-flowing and invading draughts of beauty — that’s why it’s called “desire.” This causes both a relief from pain and a feeling of joy.

*PHAEDRUS*, 250-251d, trs. Scully, pp. 31-32

If one’s aim is to disparage homosexualty, one does not start by insinuating that same-sex eros is a manifestation of a corrupted state of the soul, then go on to say in the same paragraph that when a person is in the uncorrupted state the (male) soul is watered and warmed while it takes in the beauty of the male beloved. (Cue the sunshine, bluebirds, and lark song.) So yes, for the umpteeth time, Skalko is a bumbling idiot, at least as regards Plato.

But we already knew that

Clearly, Skalko was not reading the 251e-252a passage in its context, an omission that reveals a stunning degree of incompetence. Expressing incompetence this bad requires an entire chorus of angels in heaven doing facepalms:

Plus several Judge Judies:

Apropos is Richard Yettle Chappell point regarding the character of the person making an argument as incredibly bad as this is.

Further, I think insults aren’t always inappropriate. Creationists and homophobes, for example, tend to make revealingly bad arguments. In critiquing these arguments, we first aim to show why the conclusion doesn’t follow. But we are also in a position to draw a conclusion about the character of the person advancing the argument. Many arguments are so bad that they could not be honestly made by any informed rational person. Thus anyone who makes them must be either stupid, ignorant, or dishonest. In the course of criticising such an argument, a partisan may wish to point this out, just to emphasize how incredibly bad the argument really is. I don’t think it’s necessary wrong to do so. Some positions are so lacking in rational warrant that they deserve our scorn.

https://www.philosophyetc.net/…/attacks-and-arguments.html

Skalko is not consistently stupid or ignorant. In *DISORDERED ACTIONS*, the same book where he makes these ludicrous claims about Plato and Aristotle, he also cogently dismantles Edwards Feser’s distinction between ‘contrary to’ and ‘merely other than’ purposes, a distinction Feser makes in an attempt to defang the usual mirth-provoking counterexamples to Natural Law Theory.

This leaves dishonest — certainly an irony given the fact that Skalko’s book attempts to show that both homosexualty and lying are immoral on Natural Law grounds. Accustomed to preaching to the choir, an author can let their standards slip enough that they fail to exercise due diligence. Skalko may have encountered a passage of text someplace quoting the “Skalko passage” from the *PHAEDRUS*, and failed to read anything more in that dialog. It certainly did not occur to him that reading just a few lines further into the text would have forced a completely different interpretation of the passage.

Dishonest? Maybe I should have said political. If Skalko’s politics and ideology align with the radical integralists with whom he shares a publisher, that may have made him less than totally enthusiastic about challenging an integralist interpretation of a particular passage in Plato or Aristotle by looking at the context or considering factors such as missing words. Extremist political and religious ideologies can easily make for readings that are tendentious to the extreme. Politics, especially Rad Trad politics, is a radically powerful stupid-making factor that it is all-too easy to succumb to. Whatever the reason, Skalko’s Plato and Aristotle scholarship is substandard without question.

Having established in this essay-post Skalko’s thorough-going unreliability as an interpreter of Plato and Aristotle, I will be in the next essay post tying up one loose end. Plainly the phrase “unnatural pleasures” leapt out at Skalko, when he first encountered the “Skalko passage”. Importing Thomistic Natural Law Theory (of all things) into the *PHAEDRUS*, Skalko apparently read that phrase as meaning “the pleasures of homosexual sex”, and assumed his readers would as well. I have just shown that Plato is not likely to be using “unnatural pleasures” to condemn or even just disparage physical homoerotic acts per se only to tell us a few lines later that those performing those acts with sufficient restraint and moderation will enter the platonic equivalent of the Elysian fields. Plato is not a blithering idiot.

What, then, does “unnatural” mean in the Skalko passage? In the essay-post that follows, I argue that “natural eros” for human beings is precisely that eros that moves rapidly from “here” to “there”, that is to say, moves from the particular beautiful person or object (say, Channing Tatum) to beauty itself. The non-corrupted soul is able to gain an accurate emotional cognition of beauty itself through the emotion of reverence. This cognition (actually, re-cognition) enables the uncorrupted soul to move rapidly to beauty itself. Any eros that is ploddingly sluggish in accomplishing either the cognition or the movement is “unnatural”, i.e., exists counter to the essential nature of eros.

Ironically,what is “natural” to eros is not defined by reference to the preferences or “laws” of the four-footed beasts — to the contrary, these define unnatural eros. As John Scully, a translator of the *PHAEDRUS*, points out, natural eros moves away from physical objects and towards the eternal Forms:

The philosophic soul’s eroticism is contrasted with the corrupt soul’s “unnatural” desire to beget children. Unlike the aroused penis of a corrupt soul which can find a physical object to relieve its desire, the aroused state of the philosophic soul can only be relieved by a “recollection” or “memory” of the eternal Forms.

Plato, *PHAEDRUS*, trs. Scully, translator’s footnote, p. 32

But all it took for Skalko to place the Plato of the *PHAEDRUS* in the anti-gay camp was to catch sight of the word “unnatural” and — clearly without much if any thought — assume the word was a synonym for “homosexual”. There is a reason why scholars are encouraged to read texts in their context.

As I shake my head slowly, let me repeat the Skalko passage, but in a different translation. The emphases are mine.

Thus, the person who has been corrupted or who is not a recent initiate is not conveyed quickly to beauty itself, that is, he is not carried from here there quickly. When looking at beauty’s namesake here, such a person fails to experience true reverence as he gazes but yields to pleasure and tries to mount and to spawn children according to the law of a four-footed animal. In company with wantonness, he shows no fear or shame as he pursues unnatural pleasure.

Plato, *PHAEDRUS*, 250e–251a, trs. Scully, p. 31.

In the next essay-post, I will be exploring these themes of rapid conveyance to beauty itself and experiencing true reverence in the face of beauty itself. The namesakes of beauty and the four-footed animals mucking around in the mud will also receive their due.


Paul Should Go Easy On The Googling … Just Saying

St. Paul Doing His Own Research On Google

I made something of a mess yesterday (actually, a year ago yesterday … this post takes off from a “Memory” on Facebook) in the discussion of ROMANS in the Dignity Service, so I will try to clean this up some here. The context of ROMANS: Jewish people had recently been expelled from Rome, but by the time Paul wrote his letter they were beginning to trickle back into the city. This included Jewish Christians, who, when they came back, found the Gentiles to have gotten a bit uppity after having assumed leadership positions for a while. The Jewish members of the congregations were doubtlessly getting nasty to the Gentile members.

This nastiness is reflected in that infamous clobber passage in ROMANS. I am not at all knowledgeable in Greek, but I keep reading that in that clobber passage Paul used words that he does not normally use. In other words, he had taken standard boilerplate written by Jewish people to level accusations against Gentiles to the effect of ‘YOU PEOPLE ARE DISGUSTING!!!!! I MEAN YOU EVEN F*CK GUYS, YOU REVOLTING PERVERTS!!!!!!!!’ and pasted that into his letter. Basically, he had googled ‘sin’ as understood by Judaism at the time and put the results verbatim into his letter. What he says therefore surely repeats the nasty things the Jewish Christians returning to Rome were saying to the Gentile Christians.

Then, of course, in a sudden turnabout, he says “You guys (Jewish Christians) do exactly the same things!’ In other words, STOP CLOBBERING PEOPLE, YOU HYPOCRITES!!!! Since the point of those passages is to say STOP CLOBBERING PEOPLE, it is ironic that the ignorant bigots (not to mention any names … well, okay, I will mention Mr. Gil Sanders, that vile propagandist using techniques employed in 30s-era anti-Semitic propaganda) employ exactly this passage to clobber LGBTQ+ people, ignorant of the context of the passage.

I have absolutely no doubt that Paul, as a Jew, shared the prejudices prevalent in Palestine and the Middle East generally at that time. Those prejudices would have been in the air he breathed and the water he drank. Nonetheless, that he had “googled” the text of that rant suggests that he had not given any deep thought to the status of LGBTQ+ people, a concept whose very existence at that time is ambiguous at best. Especially in the light of progressive revelation, its status as a guide to ethical behavior is no more dispositive than what he says about slavery or about the status of women.

Paul was only human, and like the rest of us, saw things only through a glass darkly.


I Found This Print-Out Of An Email Floating In The Wind Above A Dumpster

Hi All,

ICYMI, Here is a reprise of the lecture I gave based on the slightly heated … er … philosophy seminar … regarding “facts vs opinions regarding abortion” held in the Mexican Restaurant two weeks ago. I am adding some remarks on abortion in relation to the sorites paradox.  This material will be appearing on the quiz, so please study it carefully.    

This is a letter to the editor I wrote a while ago to an arts magazine based in Chicago.   I see it as the definitive refutation of the commonplace notion that any evaluative statement is “only an opinion”, neither true nor false. 

(A friend of mine included it in a course she was teaching on the philosophy of art at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.  The reaction of her students was “Betty Ann Brown [whose views I was criticising] is awesome.  But who is this Wirt weirdo?” I’d like to think that this is the only letter to the editor included in the material for a philosophy course.  But who knows — maybe another will turn up someplace 🙂 ) 

My professor friend was always trying to disabuse her students of the notion that any evaluative statement is ‘just an opinion’, and any given person’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.  Should a student object to the grade he had gotten on a paper, she would tell him “Why should you object?  On your view the grade is a matter of opinion, and my opinion is as good as anyone else’s”.  She found this rejoinder to be highly effective, and I also found it effective in my teaching efforts. 

To turn the tables, suppose that another student writes a brilliant paper that gets published in a good journal and gets frequently cited.  But in spite of all this (defeasible) evidence of its high quality, her professor gives the paper a D.  After all, the professor’s opinion would be as good as anyone else’s, if evaluative statements are neither true nor false.  But in fact it is fairly safe to say that her professor’s opinion is simply wrong.  An opinion can be true or false.      

Unfortunately, neither my letter to the editor, however, nor my friend’s teaching efforts, have done much to turn the tide against this notion, both pervasive and pernicious, that any evaluative statement is “only an opinion”, neither true nor false.  But I do have to admit that pretending so might smooth social affairs a bit, so that less salsa gets thrown in Mexican restaurants.  (It took me and [name not legible] all this time to clean up all the salsa on the walls of that Mexican restaurant.)  

Now onto the abortion and the sorites paradox.  What is the sorites paradox?  Suppose that one grain of sand has been dropped onto the table at the Mexican restaurant.  Does that one grain of sand count as a hill?  No — of course not.  How about 2?  Don’t be silly.  3?  Sigh.  4?  Oh please.  Nonetheless, it is clear that one will eventually have a hill where there used to be a Mexican restaurant.  The sorites paradox consists in the fact that no one in their right mind will specify an exact number of grains of sand that will finally make this thing a hill.  Unlike “Euclidean triangle”, what a hill is is vague. 

One of the intuitions behind the pro-choice position is that the personhood of the fetus is vague in the same way.  The just-fertilized egg is no more a person with a right to life than a single grain of sand is a hill.  But as the fetus develops, it becomes more and more like a person, just as the pile of sand becomes more and more like a hill the more grains are added.  This idea is consistent with our common-sense attitudes, which see the death of a just-fertilized egg as far, far less of a tragedy that the death of a fetus the day before it would have been born. To pretend otherwise is just sentimentality.  And there is not much of a market for caskets and funeral rites for week-old fetuses.  Of course, we still have to wrestle with the problem of how far past the moment of conception would aborting the fetus become unacceptably like killing a person.  

If one holds the “epistemic view” of vagueness, one holds that there is in fact a specific grain of sand at which all these grains of sand can gain the status of a hill, and there is a specific second in the development of the fetus, at which it has become a person. It is just that we cannot know what these are.  This seems to me just weird, but if it is the case one runs the risk of making abortion acceptable at a point at which the fetus has become a person.

If one adheres to the “ontological view” of vagueness, as I do, one says that there is no such grain of sand, and no such second. But if there is no final grain of sand, how can we stop before the grains of sand on the table in the Mexican restaurant become Mount Everest?  This is also weird, though I think the problem can be handled. I try to make a start here. (In the case of the vague limits of the visual field, for example, take an average of the points.) 

But If we don’t absolutely know that ontological vagueness is the correct concept, we run the risk of aborting some fetuses that are in fact persons.  We then have to decide whether this risk matters more than the risk of women dying because of the fear on the part of the doctors of being prosecuted should a lawyer second-guess the doctors’ judgment of how serious the woman’s case was.  Given the rather abstruse character of the first risk and the rather concrete character of the second risk, the answer seems clear to me.  

Of course, one could just cut the Gordian knot by adopting the criterion of certain families, who say aborting the fetus is no longer acceptable only when it finally becomes a doctor or a lawyer.

With Agape,

[Name Not Legible]

Dignity, the Catholic group I belong to, celebrates the birthdays of its members. We also go to dinner after the service. Once in a blue moon … uh … philosophy seminars … occur


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

Velasquez, St. Thomas Comforted By Angels After Driving A Prostitute Away With A Firebrand … I Always Thought That Thomas’ Warm Embrace Of The Clearly Male Angels Is A Bit … Unnatural-Law-ish

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? Fog does not lend itself to being partitioned this way.

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.

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 perhaps 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 preachers who try to spread hatred of LGBTQ+ people get caught hiring rent boys to “carry their luggage” as they hike the Appalachian trail. As the author of *The Closet of the Vatican* has documented, the best predictor of whether a priest or 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