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.


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.


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

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

Afterimages don’t push back.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Direction.  The physical body. Kicking.]

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

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

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

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

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

Distance and Location

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

A Horrific Crashing Sound, And Three Innocent Young Lives Are Extinguished: Prospect Park, Kamp Houston, Negligence, And The Deaths Of Three Valet Parking Employees

Recently, I have quoted the author of Black Girls Who Brunch on the apparently cavalier attitude of Kamp Houston towards what is, actually, a matter of life and death: the spread of COVID-19 in a vulnerable community. (Take a look here and here.) I have noticed that lately far fewer people have been thronging to that club, making me wonder if Jonathan Reitzell and Mojeed Martins, who own and operate Kamp Houston, have not ended up making a very bad business decision by killing off their own customer base. Currently, however, I am not able to link these fine, outstanding entrepreneurs to particular bodies in the morgue. And maybe their bad business decision consisted not in wiping out their customer base through an excessive number of superspreader events, but in booking too many Bow Wow concerts.

A couple weeks ago three valet parking employees servicing Prospect Park were killed by another valet parking employee in a police chase down a dark street next to the club. The offender had been caught by police doing “donuts” with a customer’s car.

Fairdale Lane Tragedy. Unfortunately yesterday a tragedy happened in Fairdale Lane and 3 innocent people got killed by a vehicle speeding, trying to get away from the police at 10:30 pm after the driver got caught doing donuts in an empty parking slot.  For who lives by Fairdale Lane is concerning how worst is getting day to day and all these issues are mainly caused by the businesses: Prospect Park and Cafe Mawal. Fairdale Lane is a barely two way street with lack of lighting, speed pumps and sidewalks, that is being used by their clients/employees as drivers and as pedestrians to walk back and forth between the bars and the parking lots that they have been setting up around us. These two bars create dangerous and unsafe situations for their clients/employees and neighbors collapsing the small streets around us, having us all afraid to drive around and also creating crazy shooting and other episodes by their clients being under alcohol/drug influence.  Prospect Park and Cafel Mawual have been showing an important lack of respect for the people that lives in the area with the noise and how they use our area for their businesses. And yesterday after 3 employees got killed, they kept the party on for a couple of hours after the incident even that these were their employees or could be clients. And it is not surprising how they resumed activities tonight like nothing happened last night. Mayor Turner, Council and Police Chief Troy Finner please do something for our safety, to reduce the crime and stop the speeders. Attached is the terrible sound of the crash that was recorded by security cameras.

The commenter links to a horrific sound recording of the crash that extinguished three innocent young lives.

I have noted a number of times on this blog how Messrs. Reitzell and Martins “…have been showing an important lack of respect for the people that lives in the area with the noise and how they use our area for their businesses.” Now this lack of respect has resulted in the horrific crash you can hear via the link above.

There has been talk at certain venues of suing both the valet parking company and Prospect Park (owned or operated by Reitzell and Martins) for negligence in the deaths of the three employees. That Prospect Park has recently installed flood lights illuminating what had been a very dark street seems to me to be a recognition of previous negligence. But the flood lights are too little too late. Expect Prospect Park, Kamp Houston, and the Valet Parking company to get sued for all they and their owners are worth, the talk goes, and to come under new ownership soon.

Both club owners and the valet services owner will soon be responding to wrongful death lawsuits from families of those killed. Look for new owners and new business names at both locations within the next 6-12 months.

As for me, I would not waste too many tears were I to see Reitzell and Martins “flying a sign” on the corner of Richmond and Fountainview.

The court system will decide if and to what extent Messrs. Reitzell and Martins were negligent and if and to what extent they are liable for these three deaths. But certainly dark narrow streets and clientele drinking alcohol and (allegedly) doing drugs increases the chances something like this will occur. The owners of Prospect Park certainly must bear some moral responsibility for what happened. So in advance of whatever the court system decides, I would like to say: thanks Jonathan Reitzell. Thanks Mojeed Martins. I hope you are proud of your “accomplishment”. May that horrific sound recording be forever linked to your names.

In the past, I have noted accusations made in court against the owners of Kamp Houston of wage theft. I am not a lawyer, of course, but I do wonder if our fine outstanding entrepreneurs, these pillars of the community, escaped responsibility on the basis of some legal technicalities. (You can view the lawsuits here and here.) According to at least this person who services Prospect Park, that organization plays similar games with regard to paying its employees. And that organization is less than totally strict in its hygiene standards. It is not for nothing that Prospect Park got put on Houston’s Wall Of Shame. I have no idea if Messrs. Reitzell and Martins can escape legal responsibility for these matters based on legal technicalities, but certainly they must bear moral responsibility:

I service this bar, the owners are trash! The kitchen is disgusting and they have a cooler they keep all their meats and seafood in and it’s never been at correct temps. The can’t keep good employees because they don’t pay on time, I was present when all the cooks walked out because they were tired of not getting paid on their designated pay days. They got cited for dumping their oil in the sewage. I was there when a inspector came and opened the manhole to find it full to the top with oil and food! But these dumbass people still go there. I know those valet guys well, they were good guys!! Soo sad!!!

The owners are, of course, Jonathan Reitzell and Mojeed Martins.


A Christianist Apologist Who Has Made Something Of A Splash

As long as I am bashing right-wing Christianists (Gil Sanders’ hateful homophobic propaganda, John Schneider’s greasing the skids towards violence against Asian people), I may as well point out that Mr. Paul Manata, who has made quite a splash as a Christianist apologist, used to target special-ed students in High School.

I can remember making fun of the kids in special Ed. Oh; I would get a laugh from all the popular kids. They thought I was so cool and funny! I would make one autistic kid so mad that he would scream and hit himself in the middle of the halls. He wanted to be liked so I would use him. I would act nice and tell him to ask our P.E. coach what a sphincter was. All of us would laugh when we would hide and listen to him ask Coach C. “what’s a sphincter?” Then we would bust a gut when Coach rolled his eyes and said in his gruff voice, “It’s a muscle, Chris.”

But I didn’t only pick on the special Ed kids. I would punch anyone for a buck. My friends knew it and so if they didn’t like someone they would give me a dollar and I’d just walk up and hit them.

Commenter DingoDave quoting Paul Manata at, last accessed 10/05/2021

This is in contrast to my Jeff, who employed his formidable pugilistic skills in Junior High and High School to protect an autistic kid from bullying. The contrast here is striking. There is a core that doesn’t always change over the years, though it can find a different target. Jeff’s core found compassion for very different types of people; Mr. Manata’s core, DingoDave thinks, just found different targets as he turned into a Christianist ideologue.

Mr. Manata also beat up Pinoy people in High School, and crossed the border into Mexico in order to “jump” (as he put it) Mexican people in side streets and beat them up.

Having power meant that I could destroy anyone. So I fought on a regular basis. My popularity grew because of my victories. I remember me and three of my friends fighting about 25 Filipino gang members who came to our school to recruited new members. We beat them in the parking lot. You can imagine the news spreading. Four guys take on a whole bunch of gang members and beat them. Well, I had death threats and was told by school officials not to go to any school functions etc. But I went just to show that I had power. Nothing ever came of the threats. I would fight any chance I had. If I was driving and you honked your horn at me, well then I’d follow you to where ever you were going, get out of the car, and beat you in public. I used to have a broom stick handle and would just wait outside of restaurants in the bushes for any random person to come out. I would jump out and beat them with the stick. I remember once going into an Italian restaurant, pulling out the cooks from the back, and beating them. They had jumped a friend the night before so we went down with baseball bats and I had brass knuckles. We beat them so bad that a couple were in the hospital fighting for their life (or so said a kid whose mom was a nurse on duty at the local hospital).

America wasn’t enough. I would go down to Mexico, get hammered, and then jump Mexicans in side streets.

This was cool but not big enough. So a friend and I vowed to beat up at least one person from every state in the U.S. We would drive around, find an out of state plate, and then follow them and jump them when they got to their destination.

I remember going to a party and walking up to guys and making them bow to me in front of everyone, what an ass I was(!), actually I thought I was cool. I still fought on a regular basis. I was asked to bounce some pretty cool parties. One party, after I had drank 750 ml. of Jeggermeister and about 8 beers off the keg; I was told by the owner that some guys were getting loud. I went over, grabbed the first guy, threw him down and kicked him in the face. Now, I could leg press over 1,000 pounds and squatted almost 600 lbs, so it was a powerful kick. I deviated his septum and he ended up getting reconstructive surgery.

Commenter DingoDave quoting Paul Manata at, last accessed 10/05/2021

Mr. Manata’s self-serving comments do nothing to hide the sheer ugliness of this.

He then shows an amazing lack of self-awareness when, some years later, he makes statements that lead people to accuse him of racism. One could only make such inferences, he seemed to be claiming, only if one were trying to engage in left-wing propaganda. As if his actions in High School were irrelevant to the interpretation of his statements. — Certainly Mr. Manata is not the best person to point to if one wants to refute the White Christian racism uncovered in the book WHITE TOO LONG.

Oh, and I’ve been meaning to ask Mr. Manata — did you also beat up LGBTQ+ people? You would not, after all, have to bother crossing the border into Mexico to do that. And if you did, do you think that just MIGHT inform your attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people today?

A Celebration Of Jeff’s Life: Love, Art, Music, And Loss

Two heathens in the kitchen, Jeff and Tiger. It could be difficult sometimes to tell where Jeff started and where Tiger left off. Jeff loved cooking, and he was in his element in the kitchen. The different reds of the two rugs, as well as their shapes, was very carefully considered.

[Eminem music — played low — should start here. Lose Yourself.]

To celebrate is to mark as special. We celebrate a particular Saint’s day to mark that day as special because of its connection to that saint. Attending to what was special about that saint, we bring them out of the woodwork. Today we are celebrating the life of my late partner, Jeff by bringing parts of that life out of the woodwork and in that way marking that life as special. Marking the good that stood out. Even much of the bad (And some of this was truly bad) had positive elements that are worth pointing out.

The two of us were very, very different, but we bonded together through several things: through art — that of other people’s and our own; through one very intense episode of watching/listening to a live performance; through his making me laugh and my making him laugh; through our cats, Mohtee, Tiger, Pretty Girl, Musang, whom he dubbed “devil in a charcoal dress” (I remember the laugh and the accent), and Street Cat. He called all of them the “heathens”.

His liking cats was a bit odd because before we got together he always thought of himself as hating cats. Yet he ended up forming a strong bond with all five cats, especially with Mohtee, then, after we lost her, with Tiger. In the morning, Tiger would climb onto Jeff’s chest and wake him up by tugging on his little wisp of beard. Tiger was, I swear, ecstatically in love with Jeff, and would even come when Jeff called. “Tiger is my other self. Tiger is a human”, Jeff would say. And I have absolutely no doubt that Tiger was thinking “Jeff is my other self. Jeff is a tomcat.”

I will never forget his bringing home one night the tiniest kitten, Street Cat, whom he had stumbled across on a street where her mother had been run over. The kitten had been licking the blood from her mother. I did not have the heart to say “no”.

We bonded together through a number of things, I said. And one of the things that bonded me to him was the sound of his voice and his Southern accent, both of which were like biscuits and gravy to my ears. A little strange, maybe, but it drew me to him. The voice plus his ability to pronounce little snippets of Cajun French he had gleaned from his Louisiana-born mother before he was four*. The voice was like a fountain from which flowed wordplay and puns. “Don’t look at me with that tone of voice”, he would say.

And I bonded to him through a kind of silly joy that he so often displayed. And his imaginative and successful cooking … he used to make little sandwiches and serve them to me in bed. And through God knows how many other little things, tiny by themselves but adding up.

“You never gave up on me”, he once told me. I never gave up on him because I had bonded with him to the core.

I mentioned the art. He was very much attuned to my own paintings and drawings and emotionally responsive to the particular sensibility that is behind them. I can’t really tell you what that sensibility is, since for me it is like a fish trying to describe the water it is swimming in; but I will say that I am starting to get the feeling that it appeals to rednecks and to those of us who have not totally escaped adolescence. Partly because he was in tune with this sensibility, whatever it is, he would be able to immediately zero in on the weakness of a particular drawing or painting. He became indispensable to me for that reason because he was always right on target. I kept thinking “He hit on it exactly”. I’ve kept a list of his numerical rankings, ranging from 5 (“It looks better in the slide than in real life) to 9.5. He tended to rank the drawings a bit higher than the paintings. I felt a very strong feeling of commonality when every now and then he would enthuse over one of my drawings or prints, a kind of electrical circuit flowing from him to me and back again. I don’t know how to describe it. [First Eminem ends about here. Second Eminem — Not Afraid — Starts.] I am told that if one tuning fork is set vibrating another one near it will start vibrating in the same frequency. We were like that. Responding to one work, he was set vibrating, so to speak, and I start vibrating in response. His understanding what was going on with the art made me feel as if he had reached into my core. He resented the demands that my rather time-greedy money-making work (he called it “that cryptic code shit”) made on my time, and he was always thrusting a paint brush or lithographic crayon into my hands. “Here, get some real work done.” All of this was a major factor in what bonded me to him, and kept me with him even with all the difficulties caused by his bipolar illness.

He kept pressing me to teach him how to draw. I would try, but without much luck initially. Then one day he took an ordinary #2 school pencil, and copied one of Van Gogh’s drawings of a chair. This time he focussed on each line in the original. Success! He came up with a nice, even more-than-respectable drawing. His very first. For all the world his reaction to his success reminded me of a video I once saw of a father teaching his very young son (complete with helmet) how to ride a bike. Once the son could go a certain distance without support from his father, he yelled out triumphantly: “Now I can do anything!!!!!!’ Jeff’s reaction to his success had very definitely this same enthusiastic NOW I CAN DO ANYTHING!!!!!!!!! quality — a joyful exuberance. Soon after he made a nice copy of a goat by the Japanese artist Hokusai (his favorite), and did drawings from life of various people.

He never completed High School, and had very little exposure to Art History apart from a few snippets from an eccentric aunt. “Now I will show you the real Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello. and Michelangelo”, she told him — “Not just the Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtles”. Once we were together we were very seriously into looking at art — the Mexican show at the MFAH (he was taken by a Siqueiros and by some of Frida Kahlo), and a stream of framed prints that I bought moving into the new apartment. Looking at a print of Velazquez’ Las Meninas, he could tell immediately that the king and queen reflected in the mirror in the deep background are standing where the viewer is standing:

He enthused over this painting a bit, but he was in a permanent state of being stunned by Constable’s Hay Wain:

He would fall into, then fall out of enthusiasms for some of Van Gogh paintings. He would fall out of his initial enthusiasm for a given Van Gogh when it would sink in (from the work itself) that the personality that produced these suffered from Bipolar illness. [Second Eminem song ends about here. Third Eminem — Sing For The Moment — starts.] For obvious reasons, this aspect of Van Gogh’s works he found disturbing. Van Gogh did not have the benefits of the various meds that are available; Jeff, fortunately, did. But it was always a struggle to get him to take his meds; and sometimes his illness would get bad enough that he would hallucinate and, like his aunt, hear voices. When he did take his meds, though, he was the boy next door.

Jeff’s main enthusiasm though, was for Asian, especially Japanese art, especially the woodblock prints — Hiroshige and Hokusai. He copied a goat (his father has the drawing) in one of Hokusai’s prints, the same goat that this Japanese copyist found worthy of standing by itself:

After A Hokusai Print

Hokusai of course is best known for his Wave.

Hokusai’s WAVE

We ended up with one back wall (as you can see from the first photo) mainly covered with Japanese prints.

For decorating the apartment, we decided to go “full Japanese”. Going full Japanese was the latter stage of a process which began with my buying new furniture for the new apartment, both of us recoiling from the old apartment’s overall look best labelled as “Spartan utility table with dust bunnies as the centerpiece”. I wanted “nice” and “elegant” for a change. We went to the antique shops (he scouted them first; this was the first time I ever entered one of those places) and bought some things. He would look at where I placed the things we bought; say, “No, no, no”, that is not going to do it; it needs to be in a different place; things are not flowing; then rearrange everything. I would get home from work, and everything would be rearranged. Everything had to flow from one thing to the other. Everything had to harmonize. Form, texture, color, material, and placement. The colors, shapes, and placement had to be exactly right. The black lacquered Chinese drawers you see ended up in the corner, where the effect was much more harmonious. He would look, and say “There is something missing”, then try to supply what was missing, and about half the time, succeeded. Never-ending process. He called it feng shui, though of course that is not what feng shui means strictly speaking. And the effect was always much, much better after he was done. He was very imaginative in placing things in unexpected ways. Even with a cinder block and a wooden crate he did wonderful things, using both as unexpected accents.

We spent a considerable amount of time doing flower arranging, something he was expert at. He liked getting the birds of paradise to shoot out from the sunflowers. One time we put some white flowers in the arrangement, and we both marvelled that the white color of some flowers “tasted” like coconut. So I am not the only weirdo out there who reacts to colors like that. This was yet another thing we had in common and that bonded me to him .

Chez Jeff and Cliff. The book (Cavafy’s poems illustrated by photos of gorgeous young men who would have been right up Cavafy’s alley) looks better in real life than it does in the photo)

His talent as an Interior Decorator was so obvious that I thought he should try to enter that field. Market himself to the River North people as ‘The Interior Decorator With the Prison Tattoos’. I have the feeling they would have gone for that. The thing was he had no idea how to break into that field. So I had the idea of going to the various antique shops and compiling a list of interior decorators. He could call them up and ask them to mentor him so that he could learn everything he needed to learn about the business. The worst that would happen is that each one of them would say “no”, though that experience would probably have been more difficult, at first, than all these fist fights he was prone to get into. But when the two of us started out on this outing, he had a panic attack. As I said, it was always a struggle to get him to take his meds, a common problem because the meds often have unpleasant side-effects. He stayed with odd jobs doing roofing and repairing fences.

[Third Eminem ends about here. Fourth Eminem — Legacy — starts.]

(The fist-fights: I would accompany him to the hospital more often than was ideal to get his hands bound up for hairline fractures. The attitude of the doctor was sigh “I know that people get into fights”. My attitude was “sigh I am willing to endure this so that I can get hyper-macho”. I have to admit I would sometimes get a bit exasperated. In fact, I got exasperated a lot. But this side of him was also the side that protected an autistic kid from getting bullied in Junior High and High School. As well as sissies like me. ((Odd in my case because I sometimes get mistaken for a biker of the Hell’s Angels variety, as my boss in New York did when I first met him in person. But never mind.)))

His having stuck with fencing and roofing is a pity, because he had a striking ability to immediately establish an easy rapport with very, very different people. This ability would have been an asset for him had he been able to break into the interior design business.

This ability came in handy one time when we had to deal with some people very, very different from the River North people. One evening my neighbors upstairs were playing VERY LOUD MUSIC. I mean VERY LOUD. And not just Loud, but noxious as well. This, by way was very unusual for that particular apartment complex. I go upstairs, knock on their door. A rather tough-looking guy opens the door. He answers my request to turn the music down with a kind of sneer and and a body language that said “Hey, you looking at me?” I resist the temptation to hit on him, which, though it was in the back of my mind, would have been kind of tacky. I retreat. Back in my apartment, I roust Jeff out of his sleep. Groggy, a bit reluctant, he agrees to talk to the upstairs neighbors. I thought that he might be able to pull the trick because, although he was rather wiry, he was also … er … a bit tough-looking and tough-acting.

I hear snippets of their conversation from downstairs. At first the tone was tense and wary Then all of a sudden the atmosphere changed to laughter and a sense of an easy flow. It turned out that Jeff, who was covered head to toe in prison tattoos, bore the insignia of the same gang that one of the people upstairs had belonged to. Jeff had joined the gang in order to increase his chances of survival in prison, the necessity of which become highly apparent when he had woken up one morning with someone plunging a knife into his chest. Having something in common, they became very friendly with one another; began laughing and joking. Then Jeff told them “Now my Uncle downstairs has a heart condition, and he really needs his sleep.” They turned the music down, and I was able to sleep.

(Since Jeff was not out at all, we maintained the fiction that we were Uncle and Nephew. I am not sure how convincing this fiction was. Every now and then one of his friends would ask me: Are you really his uncle? 🙂 But anyone who doubted the nature of our relationship would get beaten up, and because he was very adroit with the necessary maneuvers, he was not afraid of going against much heavier people.)

[The Eminem will continue for a few more minutes. We can either pause and let it finish, or we can change the music to the Clara Schumann here.]

He showed the same ability to establish rapport with very, very different people one night when I dragged him to a Classical Music concert. Although I could not hear what he said, I could see him, as we waited in the booze line during intermission, immediately establish an easy-going, laughing and smiling rapport with the River-North-type and Rice-University-type people waiting in line. He could find something in common with and easily enter into conversation with anyone, no matter how different from him.

Although I had to drag him to it, that concert turned out to be a milestone in his life — and through him, my life as well. Houston’s Mercury Orchestra is an absolute gem in that city, and its presence makes the heat, humidity, constant flooding, awful-tasting water (I think Joel Osteen dumps something into the Houston water supply), alligators, mega-church prosperity preachers, and right-wing politicians almost bearable. That night they had staged a combined concert, play, and dance depicting the life of of the important 19th-century composer and virtuoso pianist Clara Schumann and her relations with her husband Robert Schumann and their friend Johannes Brahms.

This explains what the performance was about:

The performance was a combined concert (orchestra, piano, singing) and dance/pantomime performance. As the French-Canadian Antoine Plante explains, the dance and pantomime at once expressed emotion and moved the story forward. In a nutshell, the story is that Clara and Robert fell in love (against her father’s wishes), married, became a power couple in the fields of composing (Clara and Robert), virtuoso pianism (Clara) and writing (Robert). At first everything is spring, flowers, and sunshine. But then Robert gradually and steadily falls into a mental illness of some kind (probably bipolar illness). No meds at that time. Clara watches helplessly, in despair as he falls into his own world, increasingly out of her, or anyone else’s, reach. This combined with the music, was extremely powerful. Swept away, Jeff started crying. His eyes were wet and gleaming when, at the end, he, shouting “bravo!!!” and the rest of the audience gave the musicians, singers, and dancers a standing ovation whose sound still lingers in my ears. He never forgot that night.

“You will have to keep your fellow hyper-macho friends and coworkers from finding out about your talent as an interior decorator and how you cry at Classical Music and Ballet Concerts”, I told him. “I think I have blackmail material here. You have your macho redneck image to preserve.”

The center of gravity of Jeff’s musical leanings was with rap and (what is at least to my ears) rap-like music. Eminem and others. The center of my musical leanings lie with the Baroque (Bach, Handel, Rameau, Scarlatti), and with some of the moderns, Poulenc (the gay Catholic composer), Shostakovich and Berg. I started listening to the Schumanns and to Brahms after a hiatus of some decades. [The Clara Schumann ends about here. The Robert Schumann should start.] Jeff wasn’t able to relate to that sort of music, though, unless acting and dance was also involved — it was meaningless to him without the visual element. He kept urging me to have us attend another performance of Loving Clara Schumann (I had to tell him that was a one-off performance that was unlikely ever to be repeated), or another concert with the acting and dance. But those were rare and far-between. There was one, also done by Mercury, that set the music of Henry Purcell’s Fairy Queen to an original play by another French Canadian (the original libretto was deemed too boring). This performance was just as good in my opinion as Loving Clara Schumann, and began with the first violinist walking onto the stage as a homeless person, sullen of aspect and disheveled of clothing. But he was also the God of the Moon, and he was there to call home the main character, an astronomer who had long been been weirdly fascinated by the moon. But something came up, and Jeff never got to see that performance.

I wonder what he would have thought of the God of the Moon calling one home.

Loving Clara Schumann remained the only performance of Classical Music that had a deep effect on him. (I had hopes for a local production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, given our mutual fascination with Japan. But no luck. He did establish a nice rapport, however, with the ticket taker.) He had the opportunity to exercise his very sharp critical judgment on that flashy but ultimately empty Chinese ballet show Shen Yun and to see a very nice performance of the Nutcracker, so that he could relive an experience from his childhood. But nothing like the Clara Schumann ever happened again in his all-too-short lifetime of 36 years. Had he lived longer, other powerful and wondrous surprises would surely have been in store.

This poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay sums everything up for me.

Dirge Without Music 

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned. 

What I gave above are a few such fragments, a few formulas and phrases that remain. But as the song Saturn says, I never found the pen to write these down so that I could capture what I felt in its fullness. The quick glance, the sudden laugh, the sudden and spontaneous arrival at a witty phrase — none of these ever to be retrieved.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the light in his eyes cannot be brought back to life and quickness; I don’t have a brush fine enough to bring those back to life and presence; but I can paint with a broad brush give very general traits, starting with his compassion.

Compassion: I have already mentioned Street Cat and the autistic kid, but he also reunited with his family in Tennessee a homeless former heroin addict with whom he had been sharing a tent for a while under the freeway. He persuaded me to give shelter for a few weeks to a friend of his from Dallas who, after a ghastly incident, was wandering around Houston a bit disoriented. (I was reluctant to, but the friend a few months ago thanked me for doing that.) He tried, unsuccessfully, to get help for an acquaintance who was sliding into Alzheimer’s and got cast out onto the street.

Caring and nurturing: he nurtured back to health a juniper bonsai that he named Kamikaze. The bonsai had arrived in the mail rather sickly. Jeff was crushed when someone stole it. The sandwiches he gave to me in bed are another example of his caring and nurturing side.

Sharp and enquiring mind: As I mentioned with the Velasquez, his mind was very sharp. He spoke intelligently about Spinoza when I introduced him to that Dutch philosopher. (Jeff would pronounce his name as “Espinoza”, and now I see from Wikipedia that Spinoza started life as Espinoza. Minor detail.) For Spinoza, God is the universe, and God is the Mind. He was an avid reader of the New Scientist magazines I subscribed to for him.

A certain … er … redneck quality. It was a wild ride with him (sometimes literally — he wrecked my 1995 Mazda Pickup truck, which I was trying to get rid of anyway), but even with its sometimes truly, truly awful aspects, I would not give this ride up for anything.

Enthusiasm: I mentioned above his boyish enthusiasm. There was so often a joyful spirit of play about him in spite of everything. Let me end with this. One time he had to have a wisdom tooth removed. I hired a cab to pick him up at the back of the building after the surgery. The dentists required that someone pick you up after after the surgery because it is unsafe to drive while the anesthesia is still wearing off. But I never bought another car after the Mazda, having decided I really should not be driving. Thus the cab. A minute passes. The sun is shining on the asphalt. Then he emerges from the door, supported by two dental technicians. On their faces is that smile that expresses tolerance but also a measure of good humor plus a tiny dash of embarrassment. Here he is, his wiry frame supported by them, laughing and dancing a kind of jig. It was the funniest thing to behold. His joy was infectious, and the cab driver started laughing along with the dental technicians. The technicians were laughing; the cab driver was laughing; the sun was shining. Having seen this is one of the things that is worth more to me than all the roses in the world.

[The Robert Schumann will continue for a couple minutes more. We can either let it play, or stop it and start the Handel here.]


Music and various odds and ends and notes.

Most of what Jeff listened to was Eminem-type music. (He looked just a bit like Eminem.) This is his world. Perhaps we can start by playing the Eminem very low. (The stuff puts me on edge.) Then have the Clara Schumann song break through all the urban grit.

Eminem: Lose Yourself

Eminem: Not Afraid

Eminem: Sing For The Moment

Eminem: Legacy

Clara Schumann, played by three different people — a singer, a dancer, and a pianist. Here she is singing If You Love For Beauty (lyrics below).

Liebst du um Schönheit
Friedrich Rückert

Liebst du um Schönheit,
O nicht mich liebe!
Liebe die Sonne,
Sie trägt ein gold’nes Haar!

Liebst du um Jugend,
O nicht mich liebe!
Liebe den Frühling,
Der jung ist jedes Jahr!

Liebst du um Schätze,
O nicht mich liebe!
Liebe die Meerfrau,
Sie hat viel Perlen klar!

Liebst du um Liebe,
O ja, mich liebe!
Liebe mich immer,
Dich lieb’ ich immerdar!
If you love for beauty
English Translation © Richard Stokes

If you love for beauty,
O love not me!
Love the sun,
She has golden hair!

If you love for youth,
O love not me!
Love the spring
Who is young each year!

If you love for riches,
O love not me!
Love the mermaid
Who has many shining pearls!

If you love for love,
Oh yes, love me!
Love me always;
I shall love you forever!

Translations by Richard Stokes, author of The Book of Lieder (Faber, 2005)

Here is an example of Robert Schumann’s music. This might be one of the pieces played in the concert, though the program does not mention which of his string quartets were played that evening. It tends to go from rather low, even desolate in mood then upswing to a much brighter mood, then down again, then up again…. Robert Schumann, String Quartet Op.41 No.1.

GoYa Quartet

RE Saturn: the song Saturn (lyrics below) express what a huge gift it is just to be alive, awful as so much is, even with illness twisting one’s life into a grotesque pretzel, poverty, and with all the threats to our future. I came across an entry he made in his journal (it was the only entry) that read something close to: “What an amazing thing it is to be still alive, one year after my previous birthday”. How rare and beautiful it is to even exist.

You taught me the courage of stars before you left
How light carries on endlessly, even after death
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist

I couldn’t help but ask you to say it all again
I tried to write it down but I could never find a pen
I’d give anything to hear you say it one more time
That the universe was made just to be seen by my eyes

I couldn’t help but ask you to say it all again
I tried to write it down but I could never find a pen
I’d give anything to hear you say it one more time
That the universe was made just to be seen by my eyes

With shortness of breath  
I'll try to explain the infinite 
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist 

With shortness of breath  
I'll try to explain the infinite 
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist 

I tried to write it all down, but I never found the right pen. I’d give anything to hear that voice and that accent and that verbal wit again — biscuits and gravy to my ears.

RE Spinoza: I introduced Jeff to Spinoza’s conception of God (one of the infinite attributes of God is the universe itself; another is Mind itself. God is the one thing that is everything). Jeff was stopped short by an “Aha Erlebniss”. It was a relief to him that he didn’t have to think of God as that cranky old guy in the sky with the white beard prone to yelling “YOU KIDS — GET OFF MY LAWN!” “Thank God (Espinoza’s God)”, he would say when something good happened. I gave him a copy of Spinoza: A Very Short Introduction”, which he actually read.

Jeff was wowed by Spinoza — God is the cosmos, God is everything mental. I gave him this book, which he actually read. ‘Pray to Espinoza’s God’, he would say, meaning ‘pray to something other than that God in the sky with the white beard yelling YOU KIDS — GET OFF MY LAWN!’.

Although this thought is not Spinoza, I like to think of each person is a unique window onto the infinite; each death closes off, bricks up, a unique view that will never come again.

RE the white color of the flowers that tasted like coconut (not the flowers, the color): No, we hadn’t been taking psychedelics. Nor do you need to call the nice men in the white coats to take me away. At least I think not. The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty notes in The Phenomenology Of Perception that synaesthesia is very common in ordinary perception. A paper bag, for example, that looks (visual) light (tactile) will suddenly look heavy when one tries to lift it and discovers it is full of rocks. Sight and touch “cross over” into one another; as the Irish philosopher George Berkeley notes in his New Theory Of Vision, they get entangled with one another. Here sight and taste were the senses that were crossing over into one another. Particular combinations of colors that I find “akrid” have smell crossing over into vision. “Don’t look at me with that tone of voice” is another example for sight and sound. “Your voice and your accent are biscuits gravy to my ears” is yet another example, this time for sound and taste. I suspect most people will come across similar experiences should they start looking/listening/feeling/tasting….

RE the pugilism: Brad Pitt here makes me think of Jeff .

Brad Pitt, who looks here a bit like Jeff, could have played Jeff in his more pugilistic moods. Jeff was very adroit with the necessary maneuvers; and he was not afraid of going against much heavier people

RE Jeff’s comments on various artists: “The peace of God flows throw this”, he said astutely of this Zurbaran still life. I could never get him permanently interested in Baroque art, though.

The peace of God is flowing through this painting, Jeff said. In spite of his occasional responses to works like this, I was not able to get him permanently interested in Spanish Baroque art.

RE Mercury and the hope for resurrection: it seems appropriate to include this, both because of the hope expressed and because of the role Mercury played in our lives:

* I leave the Southern Gothic part of the story to the very last, in a footnote. This part is very difficult to look at. His maternal grandparents had kept his mother locked up in the basement for extended periods of time. Jeff himself was born with heroin in his system, and his mother abandoned him and his sister when he was four. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the Southern Gothic element in his life. Visiting, in his teens, the very same mother who had abandoned him, he heard a popping sound. Investigating in the garage, he saw the brains of his mother’s boyfriend splattered about. His father spent some time in jail, leaving the children to fend for themselves. Jeff persuaded me to give shelter for a short time to his friend Shaggy, who was wandering about Houston a bit disoriented. In Dallas he had come across his brother’s body in the garage, where he had hanged himself. A few months ago Shaggy IM’d me to thank me. ‘I appreciate what you did’, he said, ‘even though I know you didn’t really want to do this’. Jeff himself was the cause of a certain amount of stress in me because of the bipolar condition — but “You never gave up on me”, he told me. Even though his family wanted nothing to do with me (‘that gay lawyer Jeff is hooking up with’, a private investigator they had hired to find Jeff told them), I managed to locate them and reunite Jeff with them. He had vanished from their lives after his conviction and for years after he was released from prison. There were moments of reconciliation with his family, but he died before they really found a way to cope with his illness.

And as I write this, I am thinking “All of this must sound very strange to normal people”. But for some years this was my normal.

Some more pictures of Jeff:

Jeff Cooking
Jeff Cooking
Jeff Sleeping
Jeff In A Playful Mood
Jeff In A More Respectable Mood
Birthday Carrot Cake Jeff Made For My 64th Birthday
Jeff Sick

And I end with this:

Jeff extolled the virtues of alligator. — But wouldn’t that be cannibalism? I asked him.


The lyrics to the song “Saturn”, by Sleeping at Last

You taught me the courage of stars before you left
How light carries on endlessly, even after death
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist

I couldn’t help but ask you to say it all again
I tried to write it down but I could never find a pen
I’d give anything to hear you say it one more time
That the universe was made just to be seen by my eyes

I couldn’t help but ask you to say it all again
I tried to write it down but I could never find a pen
I’d give anything to hear you say it one more time
That the universe was made just to be seen by my eyes
With shortness of breath  
I'll try to explain the infinite 
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist 
With shortness of breath  
I'll try to explain the infinite 
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist 

YOUTUBE.COMSleeping At Last – “Saturn” (Official Music Video)Directed by Tom Shea ( of Photography 

The Selfishness And Depravity Of The White Tribalist Evangelicals (And Of The Religious Right Generally, Protestant Or Catholic)

The following exchange between two Facebook friends captures my sentiment exactly:

FB friend A: The CDC thought Trumpers would be honest and wear masks. Nope. And the White House now thinks Trumpers will take breakthrough data to argue against vaccines. Yep.

FB friend B:  I saw the same naivety among climatologists and other scientists 15 years ago. Back then I was trying to convince evangelicals about the reality of global warming. We thought we could simply present the scientific data and people would understand the gravity of global warming.What we failed to take into account was the depravity and selfishness of white evangelicals. To date I have *never* seen appeals of loving our neighbor working. Because of that I quit my previous evangelical church and joined one where such appeals work.This is the why in our discussions on social media I jumped on Hillary’s term the deplorables. That said, I reserve it for discussions with people like you and not the deplorables themselves. There I use the more Biblical term, unrepentant.

“Deplorables” captures this group exactly.


The Protestant theologian John Schneider’s beloved Deplorables, with whom he seems to identify so closely that he takes any criticism of Trump as an outrageous attack on all these salt-of-the-earths. (But of course he is not a racist himself — he will tell you that himself. He has African American friends after all. He is merely an anti-anti-Trumpite.) Deplorables. The term precisely characterizes Mr. Gil Sanders, a Trumpite spreading the Big Lie, whose pictorial anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda faithfully mirrors pictorial anti-Semitic propaganda, and around whose Facebook page bigots of all varieties swarm. Deplorables. Don’t let Paul Manata catch you being excessively anti-racist, or he will (here and here) accuse you of cynical posturing to advance the interests of a particular political party, and of other base motives!

A Second Stab At Contingent Implication Implies Some Sort Of Necessity

Oops — I accidentally hit “publish” on this and now I already have one reader, even though this screed is definitely not ready for prime time. This gives me a chance to state that I am trying to do at the very outside, which I should have done anyway. What I am trying to do is clear up (at least in my own mind) and (as much as possible) disentangle some complexities that attend the distinction between ‘entailment’ and ‘contingent implication’.

Entailment. Entailments are logically necessary. “If p ^ q then p” is an entailment; the truth of p follows necessarily from the truth pf p ^ q. “If this dot is scarlet, then it is red” is another entailment. In both cases the truth of the consequent given the antecedent is a logical necessity. We explicate necessity in terms of possible worlds: something is necessary if it is true in all possible worlds.

But many different kinds of necessity get defined on the basis of different concepts of the accessibility relation between possible worlds. I have even comes across somewhere an attempt to define the necessity inherent in “one must pay their bills” on the basis of a particular accessibility relation among possible worlds. Surely there is a concept of necessity that one can apply to contingent implication. What I am trying to do is define a sense of “necessity” that applies to contingent implications, such as “If the doorbell is ringing then someone or something is pressing the button outside. In spite of the term “contingent”, there is a sense in which the consequent must be true if the antecedent is true. What I am trying to do here is suss out what this “must”, this necessity, consists in. I propose to do so using the concepts of epistemically accessible possible worlds and nomically accessible possible worlds. A number of other concepts will need to get defined along the way.

I want to keep close by two passages from Mares’ book. First passage A:

To be an informational link a relation needs to be perfectly reliable. As Barwise and Seligman argue, causal relations are often not reliable enough to be considered informational links. They use the example of a flashlight with an unreliable connection between the button and the light ((Barwise and Seligman, 1997), p. 17). Sometimes pushing the button turns on the light, but sometimes it does not when other factors come into play, such as a wire’s coming loose. The problem is that unreliable connections do not warrant deductive inference. At best, they can be used to justify defeasible inference. A defeasible inference is one that may not hold if extra information comes to light. Implication, in the sense that we mean it here, ia a non-defeasible relation between propositions.

It may be, however, that many of our inferences about other situations are in fact defeasible. In this case, we may take implication to be an idealisation. As we shall see in chapter 7 below, we present a view of natural language conditionals in which conditionals are interpreted to license defeasible inference about situations and the connections between them.

Let us sum up the theory of situated inference. … [which, through a perfectly reliable informational link, is not defeasible.]

Edwin D. Mares, RELEVANT LOGIC: A PHILOSOPHICAL INTERPRETATION, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 44-45, henceforth RL

Now passage B:

First, whereas worlds are complete, situations can be incomplete. To use the terminology of Barwise and Perry (Barwise and Perry 1983), worlds decide every issue. That is, they tell us, for any given proposition, whether that proposition is true or false. Situations, on the other hand, do not decide every issue. In some situations, the information whether a given proposition is true or false is lacking. This property of situations is sometimes expressed by saying that at some situations ‘the principle of bivalence fails’. Second, situations need not be consistent. That is, there are some situations that make contradictions true. Possible worlds, on the other hand, are completely consistent.

RL, p. 27

This description of possible worlds is very friendly to Classical Logic. That a ^ ~a is always false; that a v ~a must always be true (both a and ~a cannot be false); that If a Then a must always be true; all these are so in every possible world where the accessibility relation is that to ‘any possible world simpliciter’, without condition or restriction.

Jeremy Huntington states the intuition behind bivalence this way: ” In my view, for any clearly defined property, it seems evident that, necessarily, a thing either has or lacks it. I can’t see how a thing could be such that it neither had nor lacked P. ” The color yellow. The A grade. So does this eliminate yellow (but not precise shades), A grades (but not particular points), hills (but not particular aggregates of soil or sand or stones) from possible worlds (most notably, the actual world?). Perhaps an infinite mind could set the boundaries, even though we can’t know what they are. Either that, or we say there are not hills, general color yellow, A grades. But with situations we get our hills and A grades back. Come to think of it, we get both failure of bivalence plus failure of non-contradiction. This point within this statistical fuzz is neither an A nor not an A; it is both an A and not an A. Neither and both. Equally in the room and not in the room. It is neither the case that the dot appears nor that it does not appear. This in the realm of perception/knowledge. Nothing hinges on convenience (yellow), but does with grades (need to provide good information). The public introduces a whole new dimension.

Language, perception, and institutions each introduce vagueness.

Possible worlds fall into at least two different categories: those that are spawned from known features of the actual world, and those spawned from unknown features of the actual world.

Spawned from the known: I know that the color of my apartment walls in the actual world is portobello mushroom. I can “spawn” a possible world by imagining my walls to be wine red. I know that in the actual world donkeys do not talk (or do I? More on this later). I can spawn a possible world by imagining a world in which donkeys do talk.

Spawned from the unknown: I know that a peanut is hidden under one of the three shells in Elizarraraz’ shell game, but I do not know under which shell. Three different possible worlds (each one epistemically accessible for me from my location in the actual world) corresponding to the three defining descriptions: “the peanut is under shall #1” | “the peanut is under shell #2” | “the peanut is under shell #3”.

I make this distinction because a concept of ‘probability’ based on one’s body of knowledge (ultimately public knowledge — see Kyburg) but also what one does not know can be explicated in terms of possible worlds that are epistemically accessible for me from my location in the actual world (the holes in the lump of swiss cheese). The actual world is a “possible” world that is epistemically accessible for me: the probability (given my own body of knowledge) that the walls of my apartment are portobello mushroom is 1; the probability that the peanut will within the next nanosecond find itself on the nose of the Mona Lisa is 0. This latter defining description spawns a possible world that is not epistemically accessible for me from my location in the actual world. Of course, saying that I know these worlds are not epistemically accessible requires me to have some way of saying “I know that x is not F“.

These are the various things I will be discussing. Necessity and the various forms thereof. Possibility and the various forms thereof. Possible worlds, and the various ways of “accessing” a possible world. From possible worlds to the sample spaces of probability. These sample spaces are sets of possibilities, which possibilities are to be interpreted as component states of affairs in possible worlds. Certainty as p(1,), logical certainty, logical necessity, true in all accessible possible worlds, since we are assuming that all possible worlds are consistent and bivalent. Certainty as empirical-provisional certainty: p(0.999999…, 1). Hypothetical experiments. Empirical-provisional certainty that X is not F. Possible worlds that are epistemically accessible for me from my location in the actual world, and the possibilities within those worlds. Empirical-provisional certainty that X is not F renders certain possible worlds epistemically inaccessible for me from my location in the actual world. I can be mistaken that x is not F: mistaken for example in thinking that I cannot be both a wave and a mass at the same time.

Where I am headed with this:

This epistemic necessity will give us the necessity we need for contingent implications such as “If the button outside is being pressed, then the doorbell inside will sound.” If we allow the wiring to be defective and therefore allowing for shorts, but still forbid any external factors interfering (poltergeists, person standing outside with equipment emitting radio waves, impish aliens with their space rays), we get “If the doorbell is sounding inside, then someone or something is depressing the button outside, without the affirmation of the consequent being true: “If someone or something is depressing the button outside, then the doorbell is ringing inside”. Epistemic possibility of nomic necessity: the current is not going to just stop of its own accord without some interfering cause coming from the outside.

Diary Entry 2 (July 27, 2021)

I am preserving this FB post from a year ago on the off-chance parts of it are cogent.

(Am revising this because I had blurred the distinction between bivalent situations ((both D and not D in ‘D v not D’ are false) and inconsistent situations ( ‘D ^ not D’ is true. If I tried hard enough, I think I am also capable of blurring the distinction between my thumb and my big toe.)

The following is an attempt to define situations (as opposed to possible worlds) in terms of possible worlds that are epistemically accessible to me from my situation in the actual world. Then use this to show how ‘D or not D’ can be false for a situation (so that both D and not D are false for that situation, though not for a possible world — the situation therefore counts as bivalent) and how ‘D ^ not D’ can be true for a situation (so that the situation counts as inconsistent). Both bivalent and inconsistent situations are needed for Relevant Logic, which is a paraconsistent logic.

The possible world w0 in which Bigfoot is roaming the forests of Western Washington State is epistemically accessible for me because I know nothing that would absolutely rule out the identity of this possible world with the actual world. Likewise, the possible world w1 in which Bigfoot is NOT roaming the forests of Western Washington State is also epistemically accessible for me because I know nothing that would rule out the identity with the actual world of this possible world. I think the chances are greater than 50% that Bigfoot is not roaming these forests, but that is not the same as my knowing this.

These two possible worlds are incompatible; they cannot be the same possible world. One makes ‘Bigfoot is roaming…’ (D) true; the other makes ‘Bigfoot is not roaming…’ (not D) true. A possible world answers every question: for any given possible world, either Bigfoot is roaming in the possible world or she is not. One must be true but not the other. Both cannot be true. So in all possible worlds ‘D ^ not D’ is false. That is to say ‘D ^ not D’ is false in all possible worlds.

Which possible world we are talking about hinges on how it answers the Bigfoot question (D or not D?). The identities of w0 and w1 depend upon this answer. If I exist in a possible world in which D is true at a time t then all of a sudden per impossible I am existing in a possible world in which D is not true at this same time t, then I have been transported to a different possible world. (Maybe Scottie beamed me into it.)The two possibilities cannot exist in the same world at the same time. Neither world can be an inconsistent world.

And one of them (at any given time), D or not D, must hold in w0 and w1. In neither world can neither ‘Bigfoot is roaming the forests of Western Washington State’ nor ‘Bigfoot is not roaming the forests of Western Washington State’ be true. The worlds cannot be bivalent. One or the other — at least one and at most one — D or not D, must be true for these possible worlds to be the possible worlds — mutually exclusive worlds — they are. To remove D from w0 would be to strip that world of its identify; likewise, to remove not D from w1 would be to strip that world of its identity. Neither w0 nor w1 can be a bivalent world. In all possible worlds, ‘D v not D’ is true. ‘D v not D’ is necessarily true.

So the falsity of ‘D ^ not D’ and the truth of ‘D v not D’ stems from the criteria for the identity of possible worlds. Possible worlds have to be complete, answering every question (Is there, or is there not, a butterfly with violet wings fluttering about in the Amazon at GPS point xyz?). They have to be consistent. They cannot be bivalent. They would undergo serious ‘criteria of identity’ crises were these conditions not fulfilled. Let’s say that for D to be true in w0 is for D to hold in w0; and for not D to be true in w1 is for not D to hold in w1. At least for now, I will leave the concept ‘hold’ as an undefined primitive. I am now about to relate this concept to the concept of a situation. A situation in which a person exists is the information that is available to them. Cliff’s situation includes everything I am familiar with in my apartment, as well as the view of the courtyard outside. It includes my knowledge that Houston is in Texas, and Seattle is in Washington state. The range of information available to Cliff is obviously limited. It does not include enough information to rule out the identity of w0 with the actual world, nor the identity of w1 with the actual world.

Unlike a possible world (including the actual world) which is “dense” in the sense that it answers every question, a situation has “holes” in it in the sense that it does not answer every question. It contains pockets of missing information. If a possible world is dense like a slab of most cheeses, a situation possesses many “holes” — pockets of missing information — and is in that regard like a slab of Swiss cheese.

One can, I propose, define the compatibility relation in terms of these “holes”, that is to say, in terms of possible worlds that are epistemically accessible to a knower S. Doing this is important since Mares analyzes bivalent situations in terms of the compatibility relation. A possible situation s1 is compatible with an actual situation s0 if the possible world of which s1 forms a part is epistemically accessible for S from the actual world of which s0 forms a part. The compatibility of situation s1 is with situation s0 consist in its being the case that, for S, given their knowledge (or lack thereof), that is to say, the information possessed by them (or absence of therefore) nothing rules out the identity with the actual world of the possible world of which s1 forms a part. What could be more compatible than that?

[Since possible worlds answer every question, it is not the case that in w0 Bigfoot might not be roaming around or that in w1 she might be or could be. She is in the case of w0 and she is not in the case of w1. ‘Might’ and ‘could be’ do not apply in the case of possible worlds. But they definitely apply in the case of situations. For unlike possible worlds, situations are not complete. Situations do not answer every question. If we take a situation — say, Cliff’s situation — to comprise all the information available to Cliff, missing information, unanswered questions abound. In particular, I do not have the information what would rule out the identity with the actual world of either the Bigfoot possible world w0 or the non-Bigfoot possible world w1. This missing information is what makes w0 and w1 epistemically accessible to me from the actual world. ]

If we take a possible world to be like a solid block of cheese, a situation is like a hunk of swiss cheese with numerous holes. Each hole is a question left unanswered by the situation. If we take a particular situation (say, Cliff’s situation) to be all the information available to Cliff, a situation is full of holes, full of unanswered questions. Is the peanut under shell #1, shell #2, or shell #3? Does Bigfoot roam the forests of Western Washington state, or not? These holes, these pieces of missing information, are what make the possible world in which the peanut is under shell #1, and the possible world in which Bigfoot is not roaming the forests of Western Washington state, epistemically accessible to me. I know nothing that would rule out the identity of these possible worlds with the actual world in which I exist.

If we take a situation to be the information/knowledge available to a person, then Cliff’s situation will be the SAME — IDENTICAL — in both the Bigfoot possible world and in the non-Bigfoot possible world. The identical situation, no matter which possible world it is in. It is the absence of the needed information in my situation, after all, that makes both possible worlds w0 and w1 epistemically accessible for me. Epistemically accessible possible worlds then, with the relevant possibilities cum states of affairs in each (in this case D and not D) help make up a situation. The hunk of swiss cheese includes not just the dense cheese itself (the information available to me) but also the holes.

Cliff’s situation, then, includes at least one unanswered question and two possibilities. [The identity of Cliff’s situation in Houston, Texas does not hinge upon D being true and not D being false, or vice versa. D fails to be true for that situation; and if we take falsity to be ‘failing to be true’, then D is false for this situation. But not D also fails to be true for this situation and is also false for this situation. ‘D v not D’ is therefore false for this situation. Cliff’s situation in Houston, Texas, is bivalent. This situation is, remember, one in which both the , Texas does not make either of the Bigfoot propositions true. Either one could be true and Cliff’s situation would still be the same situation. I would not be transported to a different situation were D true at t then per impossible D were not true at t. D could be true in my situation AND not D could be true in my situation. BOTH are possibilities existing at the same time in my situation. So unlike w0 and w1, my situation does not make ‘D or not D but not both’ true. And at least one interpretation of Relevant Logic depends upon this.] To be continued.

I THINK I am being coherent, but maybe when I wake up in the morning or take my meds, I won’t think so.

h/t for link to Mark J Mathews.…/a.2731389…/3625295740831276/…

According to the FB page accessed through the link above, Jesus says this is not really Bigfoot — it is just a guy dressed in a gorilla suit.

Diary Entry 1(July 19, 2021)

I think the post you [a certain person on Facebook] accidentally deleted was the one I was planning to respond to, which I cannot presently find. Here is the response, in case it is apropos: 

In his The FORMATION OF A PERSECUTING SOCIETY, Robert Moore details how, starting in the 10th century, Christians started persecuting Jewish people, gay people, “heretics” (though often the heresies were more in the imagination of the persecutors than anything actual), and lepers. The holocaust was the most extreme instance of this persecution. 

Rene Gerard (whom I have just started reading, starting with THE IDEAS OF RENE GIRARD: AN ANTHROPOLOGY OF VIOLENCE AND RELIGION ) has, I think, the best explanation for the motivation of these persecutions (though not for why they started around 950 AD): scapegoating. An insider group “transfers” all its sins onto an outsider group — Jewish people, gay people, African Americans, Asians, lepers or handicapped people, so that members of the insider group can feel superior and virtuous in relation to the outsider group. This need to feel superior and virtuous often provokes extremely violent emotions when there is even the slightest hint of a demand for equality, which threatens  the insider group’s “superior” status. As a White Southerner plaintively asked after he was convicted of murdering an African American person, “If I am not better than an [N-Word], who am I better than?”

It is all too easy to find instances of scapegoating LGBQT+ people, for example, on Facebook. Although so far as I can tell at the time of this writing, Girard does not directly say much about the scapegoating of LGBTQ+ people, this link above discusses the implications of his work for this scapegoating. People who identify as heterosexual feel uncomfortable about the practices they engage in (their own same-sex attraction, anal sex, oral sex, BDSM), so they transfer onto gay people everything they feel uncomfortable about. “We are not the perverts — those gay people are the evil perverts”. In doing so, they persecute innocent people by, for example, posting on Facebook vile memes that could have been developed by taking as a template German propaganda from the 30’s directed against Jewish people. Girard notes that the perpetrators of the scapegoating have to be unaware that this is what they were doing even though this is blatantly obvious to 3rd parties; and the author of the anti-gay meme was comically unaware that he was taking his own discomfort with certain practices (now why would he feel uncomfortable with those?) and projecting them onto gay people. Not to name names, of course. (Well, I guess I will name Gil Sanders, who came up with the meme, and AJ Stringfellow, Paul Manata, and others, who at the very least rendered themselves complicit by failing to push back against it.) But I was appalled by the lack of push-back against this vile, sickening propaganda disseminated by this Christianist’s meme.

The meme was vile, as is the illustration below. It’s perpetrator and the people who are complicit in it deserve as little respect as any other dumb, vicious bigot — a racist, an anti-semite — persecuting innocent people.   

This particular Christianist was big on neo-Thomistic Natural Law, as were most of his FB friends.  John Holbo notes here how all the quaint neo-Thomistic talk about angels and essences and “Natural Law” is just a cover hiding the real motivations of people who produce anti-gay propaganda like the meme just discussed. The quaint neo-Thomism isn’t what motivates snaitsirhC to beat up gay people or try to try to remove gay people from the recent anti-lynching bill. What motivates them is the question “If I am not better than a queer, who am I better than?” What motivates them is scapegoating. And scapegoating, of course, is an integral component of bigotry.

Those who want to create an anti-gay meme can use this as a template — just make all the necessary changes:


Diary Entry 0

I am still not at all satisfied with the FB post below from July 18, 2020, but after a year’s work on this issues, I am about to make another stab on it. (“I am working on my logic blog,” I used to tell Jeff, who thought this was the strangest preoccupation.) If I think I am successful, I will then ask people to tear it to pieces. (From time to time the thought crossed my mind that maybe I could offer to PAY people to critique it, taking my cue from the author of THINKING FAST THINKING SLOW who paid his most virulent critique to uncover all the weaknesses he could find in his initial drafts. ) Dave Wallace’s comments on this were helpful.

I am thrilled to death that Ed Mares himself gave me a like on this post. It is as if a god came down from the heavens and liked one of my posts. This gives me some hope that I am on the right track.

A colleague at work suggested I print this out and frame it 🙂.

Cliff Wirt

July 18, 2020  · Shared with Public

Some thoughts upon waking up this morning (warning: serious confusions and grossly embarrassing missteps likely to follow): Ed Mares distinguishes between entailment, which is necessary, and implication, which is contingent. Necessity and contingency usually gets analyzed in terms of possible worlds: a proposition is necessarily true if it holds in all possible worlds; it is contingently true if it holds in just some possible worlds. One problem I am wrestling with, however, is that intuitively, SOMETHING has to be necessary about contingent implication. It is just that the necessity in question is weaker than logical/metaphysical necessity. Let me try to begin sorting this out by discussing two propositions, which I will label A) and 😎 Suppose that my doorbell apparatus is in perfect working condition (situation s). The proposition A) “If someone or something is pressing or has depressed (the button could have gotten stuck) the button outside (situation t), then a doorbell sound is occurring inside (situation u).” This contingent implication holds as long as situation s holds (the apparatus is in perfect condition). The implication is contingent, of course, because the doorbell apparatus is not guaranteed to be always in perfect condition. If some wiring comes loose for example (compare with Mares’ flashlight example) so that pressing the button outside does not reliably result in the sound getting generated inside (say, the sound gets generated just 99% of the time), the implication is no longer true. It was true only for a while, while situation s lasted. But during that time, the relation between pressing the button and the generation of the sound was completely reliable because it was nomically necessary — in all possible worlds accessible from the actual world by way of obeying the laws of physics in the actual world, there is no way that the sound can fail to be generated as long as the doorbell apparatus is in perfect condition. Now consider a trickier case: 😎 “If the doorbell sound is occurring (situation t), then someone or something is depressing (or has depressed) the button outside (situation u).” Two possible conditions of the doorbell apparatus (situation s) are relevant here. First possible condition: the doorbell apparatus is in perfect working order. For example, the insulation is not failing in such a way as to allow the sound to be produced without the depression of the button. (Although I am no expert in doorbells, I take it on good authority that a failure in the insulation could do this.) Second possible condition of the doorbell apparatus: there is a defect in the doorbell apparatus like the one noted above such that the ringing sound gets generated only 99% of the time when the button outside gets pushed or has been pushed. Nonetheless, there is nothing in this defective condition of the apparatus that would account for the generation of the sound getting accomplished independently of the button. I will assume such a condition of the apparatus is possible, though maybe someone much more knowledgeable about doorbells than I am is about to comment or email me to the effect that this condition is in fact not possible. 🙂 I bring up this second possible condition of the doorbell apparatus in order to account for the fallacious nature of affirming the consequent. That is to say, from the proposition ‘If the doorbell is ringing, someone or something is depressing or has depressed the button outside’, this proposition does not follow: ‘If someone or something is depressing or has depressed the button outside, then the doorbell is ringing inside’. The first proposition can be true in situations in which the second is not. When either the first or the second condition holds, then 100% of the time, when the doorbell is ringing, the button outside is getting depressed. 100% of the time, that is, SO FAR AS I KNOW. But this ‘so far as I know’ allows for, I claim, at least a weak form of necessity based on the concept of possible worlds that are epistemically accessible from the actual world. Let me explain. A possible world is epistemically accessible from the actual world for a knower S when S knows nothing that would rule out the identity of that world with the actual world in which they exist. For example, I know nothing that would rule out the identity with the actual world of the possible world in which poltergeists do not exist that like to cause doorbells to ring even when the button is not getting pushed. The possible world in which such poltergeists don’t exist is epistemically accessible for me from the actual world in which I exist. Likewise, I know nothing that would rule out the identity with the actual world of a possible world in which no one has contrived some device using radio waves that somehow activates, without the button ever getting pushed, something in the doorbell apparatus that generates the sound. Currently (maybe someone is about to email me alerting me to the invention of such a device) this possible world is also epistemically accessible to me from the actual world in which I exist. So if I am feeling especially brave or foolhardy, I might venture the claim that in all possible worlds epistemically accessible to me now, the button outside is getting pushed (or has been pushed) when the doorbell is ringing. This rather weak necessity undergirds the truth of 😎. The intuition I am starting from, remember, is that even contingent implication requires SOME sort of necessity. In contrast to implication, entailment relies on propositions that are true in all possible worlds that are logically/metaphysically accessible from this actual world. These propositions are always true for all time. The contingent implications A) and 😎 by contrast, although they also rely on one or another form of necessity weaker than logical/metaphysical necessity, rely on possible worlds that are either nomically or epistemically accessible from this actual world, and are not true for all time. The wiring in the doorbell apparatus might come loose, rendering A) false. I might find out that doorbell-loving poltergeists do exist (maybe I am tempting fate by claiming they do not), rendering 😎 false.

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Sure — I Will Help You Fix Your Pickup Truck, Mr. Channing Tatum … No Problem At All: The Selective Advantage Of Same-Sex Sexual Attraction

Mr. Channing Tatum. What he is fixing here is not a pickup truck, but we need not be quite so pedantic

Apparently recognizing the weakness of the Thomistic Natural Law argument that non-reproductive sex in general and homosexuality in particular is “wrong” (the Verbose Stoic modifies this to “is less important or ideal”), the Verbose Stoic introduces an argument based on evolution in an attempt to bolster the case:

And so I think one big problem Laird has in Chapter 3 is that he needs to defend that position [that sex is not primarily for reproduction, and that all forms of sex have equal value, even those that do not and cannot result in children or a marriage for the purposes of raising children] and while accepting at least the natural law premise must argue that the main purpose of sex is not or need not be for reproduction.  The problem with this is that any such arguments have a very large hill to climb, since it really seems obvious that that is what sex is for.  It makes as little sense to claim that sex’s primary purpose isn’t necessarily for reproduction as it would be to claim that the primary purpose of eating is not to provide nutrition for the body.  Not only is that really what it does, not only is that what we’ve used it for for millenia, but it also is what evolution selected it and its specific traits for.  You can argue that sex for pleasure isn’t necessarily wrong, but not that it’s as important or ideal as sex for reproduction.

The Verbose Stoic, at, last accessed 08/04/2021

But, as I will be showing In this post, bringing evolution into the picture accomplishes the exact opposite of what the Verbose Stoic wants it to in a number of respects. First, if one brings in evolution, one very broad category of non-reproductive sex, homosexual sex, does have purposes (in a sense that I will define shortly) which it has evolved to serve. (What’s with the italics? I will explain shortly.) And it will turn out that making one purpose “primary”, “ideal”, or more “important” than another usually makes little sense. Second, bring in evolution, and the purpose | function of an activity (sex, the activity of a particular structure in the brain, the heart’s pumping action) turns out to be far from obvious (something I will be discussing under the heading of “teleofunctionality“). For that an activity, behavior, organ, faculty, “power”, or even an instrument, has a purpose, function, or telos is determined by the activity’s (behavior’s…) evolutionary history; and what this purpose, function, or telos is is determined by this same history. Needless to say, this history is not all laid out on the surface, available for ready inspection.

Following Ruth Garrett Millikin, I will be using “purpose”, “function”, and “telos” more or less interchangeably. If she can do this, I can do it.

This stripping of the “obvious” from the natural world is one item that distinguishes the modern world from the late medieval world. The natural world gets relieved of the dreary flatness the Thomists try to force on it and gets seen as possessing a historical depth and, if “mystery” be too strong a word, “lack of obviousness” will do. This lack of obviousness undercuts the motivations for Natural Law Theory, one of which is, of course, to give one license to indulge in old-fashioned fag bashing of the sort promulgated by a certain Mr. Gil Sanders, vile bigot, acolyte of the infamously ludicrous Edward Feser. And of course it undercuts another, maybe more respectable motive, which is to support a non-revealed theology.

I therefore dismiss not just the particulars discussed in the above passage, but also Natural Law Theory tout court.

A major motivation for the passage ultimately stems from the persecution, starting around 950 (see Robert I Moore’s The Formation Of A Persecuting Society), by Christians of various groups, including Jews, “heretics” (word in scare quotes because their existence may have been more in the mind of the Christian authorities than anywhere else), lepers, and homosexuals. (I won’t discuss whether and to what extent the medieval world recognized such a category of person, apart from one’s engaging in “sodomy”.) Several centuries later, Saint Thomas Aquinas tried to justify the persecution of people engaging in m2m same-sex activity (he did not seem terribly concerned by f2f same sex activity) by developing Natural Law Theory. Sex between two men is morally wrong, according to Thomas, because it, like non-reproductive sex in general, violates the purpose of sex, what sex is for as determined by its divinely-created nature. A few centuries later still, the Verbose Stoic tones down the rhetoric some, and says that non-reproductive sex in general, and homosexual sex in particular, while not necessarily immoral or wrong, is at least not ideal. It is less important than reproductive sex, he says — perhaps not helpfully.

Implicit in the above passage is the idea that I express, a bit roughly as follows:

1) What something has been naturally selected for is the purpose of that thing.

Or again, a bit less roughly, it suffices for a thing x to have a purpose y that in the natural history of x, y has been naturally selected for in the propagation of x.

Note that when talking about ‘purpose’ in the context of evolution, one is also talking about natural history. I will be expanding on this point later. The proper function of the appendix, for example, originally was to aid in the digestion of tough herbivorous food such as the bark of a tree. Now its functions are, apparently, to prevent the humoral immune system from getting too zealous, as well as to provide a reservoir of good gut bacteria that have a way of getting flushed out from the system during episodes of diarrhea. Something in the evolution and natural history of the appendix arrived at these non-strictly-bark-digesting functions, whether these functions were already present early on then retained, or whether they developed from whatever capacities of the appendix as the digestion of bark came to be less and less critical.

[In order to get beyond the most general, vague description of a function — the heart pumps blood, the urethra carries liquids/colloids out of the body — we need to describe the form, the morphology. And in order to understand the morphology, we need to know the history of the various forces that produced these forms. Conversely, the more we understand about the “proper function” of a structure | activity, the more clues we get as to its evolutionary history. For example, the hippocampus’ production of sharp-spike waves turns out to be useful both in unleashing emotion AND in the regulation of blood sugar, something that turned out to be a bit of a surprise. One might then form the hypothesis that early in the evolutionary history of the nervous system the hippocampus regulated blood sugar, but then had its its production-of-sharp-spikes functionality co-opted by evolution to enable the deployment of immediate sharp emotion. For all I know, of course, the historical path may have been the reverse. (We encounter more instances of similar co-option as we continue.) The activity of the hippocampus, therefore — its production of sharply-spiking waves connecting to whatever other parts of the brain as well as, ultimately, the circulatory system — has at least two — surely equal in importance — proper functions: the regulation of blood sugar, and the deployment of emotion. And again, for all I know, the hippocampus may have other proper functions in addition to these two. So an organ or structure can have more than one “proper function” — something to keep in mind when we come to discuss sex.]

For example, the black color of the wings on a moth in the industrial north of England might be naturally selected for its helping to blend the moth in with its surrounding, rendering it more like to reproduce and pass its genes along, including especially the genes responsible for the black color. According to the principle stated above, the camouflage, with its helpfulness in giving the moth some room in which it can reproduce, is the purpose of the moth’s having black wings.

1) states a sufficient, not a necessary condition. The Thomist might want to claim, for example, that it is possible for a thing to have a purpose not through the natural selection of evolution, but because God has assigned a purpose to a thing.

For the moment, I will leave open the question whether “purpose” as it is used in 1) is metaphorical only, or whether, as Millikin argues, is used literally though in perhaps a non-standard sense. The sense would be non-standard because it would appeal to a kind of ‘purpose’ that is both not dependent on intentionality and which provides a naturalistic explanation of intentionality.

Unfortunately for the Verbose Stoic, it will turn out that 1) precludes him from saying, as he does: “…it really seems obvious that that [reproduction] is what sex is for”. The obviousness claim is completely misplaced, because (to closely paraphrase an author) ‘you have to look at the whole history of the evolution of an organism, not as this organism exists right now, to see what the function of its organs is’. But remove the obviousness, and the main (speakable) motivation for Natural Law Theory is gone. The whole point of this late medieval theory, apart from the fag-bashing, was the notion that we could gain non-revealed knowledge about God and their intentions by looking at nature and drawing inferences.

For now, at least, I will treat ‘function’ as a primitive, explicated via examples. The function of the heart is to pump blood; of the kidneys to maintain a balance of water and various other substances; of the lungs to get oxygen into the body and carbon dioxide out; of the urethra going through the middle of the prostate … well, I will be getting to that fairly soon.

When one starts talking about functions, it becomes easy to start talking about the telos of an organ, so at least as if it had a purpose or goal (hereafter I will be using just “purpose”). The purpose of a deer’s flight response, for example, is to escape from danger. That is the telos of the biological systems that set up this response. In very broad terms, it is what this response is for. To talk about a biological function is talk about “teleofunctionality”. ‘Teleofunctionality’ will introduce something resembling a concept of ‘should’ — something like norms. But we will also see ‘teleofunctionality’ remove any “obviousness” at all from the notion that the primary, most important, main, or “ideal” purpose of sex is reproduction.

But before I get started I would like to make some remarks on the typographical conventions I will be using. I will place a term, as I did above with “homosexuality” and “sex“, in italics when I want to indicate that the term is excessively vague for what needs to be done with its use, and I will later need to employ more precise terms. At the moment that I am using the italicized term, I am a “lumper”; later I will become a “splitter” (then turn back into a lumper again). Given the sheer complexity of homosexuality, this “splitting” will shortly become absolutely necessary. I will let the context make it clear whether the italization is used for this warning purpose or whether it is used for emphasis or to mark that a word is from a foreign language. When I am talking about a word or phrase, I will place the word in double quotes. Again, I will let the context determine whether the double quotes are being used this way or are being used as scare quotes. Words meant to refer to concepts and other abstract objects such as propositions will be placed in single quotes.

Let me note that my grasp of about every topic I bring up in this post is incomplete, so this post will remain a work in progress for a long time. Periodically, I will be going back to the various topics in biology discussed here and increasing (hopefully) the depth of my understanding of them. As the science progresses, I hope to keep abreast of this as well, requiring changes. My knowledge of Thomas and Aristotle will (I hope) also increase in depth as time goes on, as well as my knowledge of the relevant history.

Back to the the passage quoted above. This passage occurs in a series of posts written by the Verbose Stoic defending the Thomistic Natural Law Theory propounded by a certain Edward Feser against the attacks levied by Gunther Laird on that theory. One of the motivations of Natural Law Theory is to attempt to justify the Christian persecution of (who we now call LGBTQ+ people) and “heretics” that started around 950 CE. (See Robert I. Moore’s The Formation Of A Persecuting Society.) This persecution, I do rather strongly suspect, arose from a need to scapegoat, for reasons articulated by Rene Girard, a group of people that are to be defined as outsiders. Although Thomas’ contribution to this scapegoating is of course very, very bad, Thomas also laid the foundation for the social welfare concerns of the Catholic Church. He is, in other words, very much a mixed bag.

I argue here that the Verbose Stoic’s suddenly bringing in the concept of evolution into a defense of Thomas’ Natural Law Theory has the effect of plunking a fly into the nice, creamy ointment of that theory. By bringing up Natural Selection, the Verbose Stoic is inadvertently breaching the formidably high walls of Thomistic Natural Law Theory and hauling a Trojan Horse inside. I will be his Cassandra warning him not to do such a thing. Or, to switch metaphors again and go back to insects, he is enticing hordes of termites to start gnawing mine tunnels into the frame that holds the structure of that theory together. They will be very happy to start gnawing. Myself, I will be very happy to see that structure, a vehicle of oppression and evil, collapse.

In this blog post cum essay, I will be tracing out a few of these termite tunnels. Let me first briefly set forth the gist of the Thomistic Natural Law Theory. In order to do this, I will need to briefly discuss Aristotle. I am neither a Thomas scholar nor an Aristotle scholar, not having studied Thomas at all since graduate school and Aristotle just every now and then, so I expect to be revising this essay as time goes. Those who are Thomas scholars or Aristotle scholars are welcome to point out my mistakes, as I am sure they will gleefully do. (But for your sake, dear reactionary hostile Reader, should you be one, I hope you avoid doing this so gleefully that you end up spending extra time in Purgatory.)

After a brief tour of Thomas and Aristotle (or rather my current understanding of them), I will be looking at the concept ‘purpose’ (remember, single quotes mean I am talking about an abstract object) as it can be applied in the domain of evolution/natural selection. I will end up being neutral between two different possibilities of applying ‘purpose’ in the context of evolution. One possibility is to treat the application of the concept as purely metaphorical, a matter of “as if”. It is as if the heart, for example, either itself has the purpose “pump blood” (we say after all that it “wants” to continue beating when the surgeon lays it on the table) or some agent possessing intentionality had designed the heart to be “for” pumping blood, just as some agent possessing intentionality designed the toaster to be “for” toasting bread. The other possibility is that the concept ‘purpose’ (‘telos’) as that concept applies in evolution is a different concept from the concept as it applies to intentionality, bearing some similarities to intentionality concept, but also some major differences. (Well, because it is bereft of intentionality.) I will be leaning towards, without being so bold (or at least non-cowardly) as to actually adopt 2).

The attempt to apply ‘purpose’ to a Natural Selection context renders that concept far less apt as a guide to moral action. For now we are no longer talking about purposes as ordained by a perfect God, the ideal engineer and designer, a God Who does not make mistakes, but about a concept whose application is often highly strained and forced, full of obvious mistakes — or at least gross “kludges” — and leads not to the Ultimate Good, but to something much more mundane, i.e., mere reproduction. Not “using” an organ or system for what one may confusedly think (ignoring the sciences) is its proper or intended use is no longer to rebel against a “should” laid down by God, what God has lawfully ordained that the organ or system should be doing.

Perhaps recognizing the problematic character of ‘purpose’ as applied to evolution as opposed to its application to a divine intelligence with intentions, the Verbose Stoic talks about particular “uses” (note that his taking a word that properly belongs to the domain of tools) of sex not as “unlawful” (as Natural Law Felonies, or Natural Law Parking Violations, or Natural Law Anything In Between) but as “not ideal” or “not the best”. But I will show that this non-legalistic interpretation of “purpose” is also problematic. jj

Even if “purpose” were a guide to moral action, this will not give the Thomist what they want. For (spoiler alert) it turns out that by the Natural Selection principle stated above, one form of non-reproductive sex, homosexuality, does have in fact a number of “purposes” which, perhaps a bit counter-intuitively given the obvious reproductive disadvantage, are naturally selected for. One of these “purposes” is to encourage same-sex social bonding. Another is rendering men more desirable, or at least more tolerable, to women seeking both to raise children and not be driven stark raving mad by their mates. Still another is reducing the amount of reactive aggression in a group. In general, the selective advantages are embraced by the concept ‘prosociality’. The main vectors of whatever genes contribute to prosociality will be a group intensively studied by Ritch Savin-Williams, the mostly straights, those who are 1 (and perhaps 0.5) on the Kinsey scale.

I will be discussing various theories about the selective advantage of homosexuality, some a bit speculative, others more grounded empirically. In the course of doing this, I will be touching on work done regarding various brain structures and on different aspects of a highly “multivariate” phenomenon. The upshot of all this is that no, it is not really obvious that this (reproduction) is the main thing sex is for. [It is beginning to look like we would have a different nature altogether — be more like that violent preceding species, were it not for homosexuality. So if ‘reproduces the form’ is the criterion of ‘main’, the two purposes are “equiprimordial”.] The plausibility of these two accounts will depend heavily on what, exactly, sex is supposed to be. Look at just the penis without considering in any depth the brain structures, yes, it will seem that reproduction is “obvious”. We have already dismissed the notion that willing another intention is immoral; now we will dismiss the notion that not the best or idea. What does “ideal” mean anyway.

Possible worlds in which the basal proteins are part of a larger functionality. Possible worlds in which the penis is part of differing larger functionalities. Just gaping at one or the other is not going to tell one a whole lot. — Because we are not really talking about purpose at all. We are talking about “proper function(s)”, which requires that we look at the evolutionary history of a thing, in the course of which we may a number of surprisingly different things it is selected for. The proper functions of the hippocampus are the regulation of emotion and the regulation of blood sugar. The distinct tendency of the engineer, on the other hand, is to design a tool for one purpose and one purpose only. She may invent a swiss army knife — an assembly of tools, but each tool by itself has one purpose, any deviation from which, while not necessarily immoral, really is less than ideal, not the best use. Using a wrench to hammer a nail into a board somehow doesn’t feel right; hammering is not what wrenches are meant to do. An engineer designs things that function in a certain way within a system. But with evolutionary proper function we get a historical depth. Path dependence. Includes both proper function and ‘on-its-way’ function or ‘let’s leave it for now — it’s good enough for government work’ function.’ More or less proper function, sometimes being very much so proper function; this should replace ‘purpose’ because we now no longer have to try to explain why a perfect and omniscient engineer would pass the urethra through the middle of the prostate gland. .

I therefore dismiss the Verbose Stoic’s contention quoted above.

Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law Theory: Aquinas’ Natural Law Theory relies heavily on the Aristotelian concept of a final cause, which I attempt to explain as follows:

Aristotle: Think of a final cause as a kind of magnet drawing iron filings towards it. The filings seem to move towards the magnet of their own accord, without any impetus coming from the outside. They do so because of their nature, the form that defines what they are, and which in modern terms would be accounted for in terms of the form of the iron atom with whatever intra-atomic forces at work inside it and whatever else. If one is willing to stretch the imagination a bit, they can see the iron filings as “wanting” to move towards the magnet; as having the “magnet” as their goal; as “aiming” at the magnet. God has designed iron filings to do this through their innermost form as accounted for by the iron atom. Please note the scare quotes, of course.

Likewise, with perhaps just a little less stretch of the imagination, one can regard the sunflower plant as “wanting” to follow the sun, so that it will get as much sunlight as possible. Its “goal” is to follow the sun, at which it is always “aiming”. The sunflower does this because this is in its nature, its defining form. This is how God, the master engineer, has designed it. When the surgeon, while performing a heart transplant, removes the diseased heart and places it on the table, we can see, perhaps with even less of a stretch of the imagination, the heart, through the movement of its muscles, “wanting” to continue pumping blood. Its goal is to be always pumping blood; this is what it is aiming at. This is its “purpose” God has designed it so that it has this as its final cause, what it will move towards of its own accord without an impetus coming from the outside. I will use the world “telos” to cover the “purpose”, “goal”, “aim” of an object, its “wanting” to move towards something even in the absence of an impetus coming from the outside.

Naturally, other biological entities behave as if the “want” to move in a direction and towards a goal:

Natural objects have natures which determine what their telos is. Iron filings have the magnet as their telos; a stone dropped midair has the ground as its telos. Artifacts, however, only have teloi imposed from the outside. The toaster is for toasting bread, but the toast fulfills not its own purpose, but the purpose of those who have designed, manufactured, and use toaster. The hammer does not display any movement of its own accord; it requires the impetus of the hammerer because it does not have any purpose of its own. Human beings design, manufacture, and use hammers and toasters in order to fullfil their own purposes, [her purpose in using the hammer is to drive the nail in; his purpose in using the toaster is to toast bread] and it is only by analogy that we say that the purpose of hte hammer is to drive nails in (this is what hammers are for), and the purpose of the toaster is to toast bread (this is what toasters are for). What something is for belongs to artifacts; purposes pertain to entities with minds, such as human beings or God. What something is for is what we get when we abstract out the object itself from the complex and disregard the bearer of intentionality.

Just as we design and engineer artifacts, often as complexes of other artifacts, the Thomist thinks, God designs, engineers, and creates human beings as complexes of entities with natures — organs — which entities he has himself designed, engineered, and created. Just as the inventor of the toaster assigns that implement the purpose of toasting bread, God assigns to each organ or faculty a purpose by virtue of creating the nature of that entity. Unlike the toaster, the purposes of particular organs, such as the heart, or of particular faculties, such as vision, are intrinsic to them. It is the heart itself that “wants” to pump blood, and has this as its telos, though obviously not as a conscious desire. By contrast, the toaster does not in any sense “want” to toast bread — not even in a sense of “want” (if any such could be had) that is encased in scare quotes. Like the toaster, the organ has a “purpose” because a designer gave it that purpose; but unlike the toaster, the organ owns that purpose, so to speak, and is moving towards a telos. Much like hte tumescent penis. The Ultimate Engineer of the cosmos designed it to have this telos — that it should have this “end” is God’s intention..

In reading Thomists, I often get the weird impression they are taking the human person as a bunch of organs or “faculties” regarded partes extra partes and stitched together — an “and” of organs and faculties. The human person gets interpreted as if they were a set of tools conjoined with an (ultimately) separable soul. Myself, I find this picture of the human person a bit alienating. As I mentioned before, the Thomists will doubtlessly inform me what I am getting wrong with this picture.

The purpose of an organ or faculty, for Aquinas, is part of the rational plan by which God has ordered all creation. The web of purposes, both within and external to the body. The Thomist will point to the highly fine-tuned way various faculties work together (for example, the way the artery system meshes so neatly with the venous system) as the result of this providential engineering. They wil be perhaps very faintly disturbed by “anomalies” such as the urethra passing through the middle of the prostate. This is not the first thing one would point to when cocming up with examples of amazing feats of enginneeing. Nonetheless people can tolerate a great deal of ambiguity in their concepts and ignore any number of anomalies when no other theory arises to compete with it.

One’s own will can be, for the Thomist, either in or out of alignment with God’s purpose for an organ or faculty. The purpose of the visual faculty, for example, is presumably to see things clearly. The faculty itself has this purpose by way of its nature, and God assigned it this purpose. The movie star who wears sunglasses indoors is impeding this purpose, though usually without frustrating it completely. If the purpose of the genitalia is to reproduce, those who engage in an act of oral or anal sex are frustrating that purpose, at least for that particular act.

All these purposes are, for the Thomist, “aiming” at a transcendental, the Good. The transcendentals names the essential “properties” of God, namely, ‘good’, ‘true’, and ‘beautiful’. I put “properties” in scare quotes because God is simple; we must therefore see these separate terms as really naming the same thing. Good, wise, powerful, , and sicne God is simple. Now ‘purpose’ clearly belongs to the domain of the Good. When one fulfills a purpose, they at least think they are achieving a good. Completing an essay or painting, for example. The web of purposes are ultimately aiming at (whether they achieve it nor not) the Good.

By itself, impeding a faculty is … let’s call it, perhaps a bit naively, a “bad” diverting — or “perverting” — one away from their trajectory towards the Good, the ultimate fulfillment. The person trying to ape a movie star by wearing sunglasses indoors is impeding their faculty of sight for no other purpose than to satisfy their vanity. Their vanity is not bringing them any closer to the Good.

Naturally there are complications. One might blindfold themselves in order to sharpen the faculties of touch and hearing that blind people rely upon, or to sharpen their sense of (the faculty of) empathy for the blind. Temporarily impeding one faculty is done in order to strengthen others so that they can help carry one to the Good.

One can also defeat this movement to the Good by using one of one’s organs in a way that it was not intended to be used. Someone might succeed, however clumsily, in using a toaster as a hammer. But this is a clear misuse of the toaster. This misuse might even be necessary (the fate of the entire country depends upon one’s getting that nail hammered in, but there is no hammer available. Only a toaster). But using the toaster as a hammer is obviously far from ideal. Likewise, the purpose of the penis is (according to the Thomist) to ejaculate semen into a vagina in order to aim at reproduciton. As mentioned above, the two are well-fitted together, at least more so than penis to rectum or penis to mouth. (But how do we know this? Other than its being just obvious. But if this is just obvious, why would the Verbose Stoic feel the need to bring in evolutionary theory to bolster their case?) Misusing a toaster can damage it so that the good of eating toast is frustrated; misusing one’s penis could give someone AIDS. And at the very least one is removing themselves from this particular aiming at the Good. One should not be totally surprised if Bad Things result thereby, though of course the occurrence of Bad Things is not guaranteed. But not consequentialist.

Some uses that are outside of the intended use are not exactly misuses. I can use a toaster as a paper weight, for example. No harm is done to the toaster and there is little risk of harm. But this is clearly a “less important” use of the toaster than its assigned function to make toast. And it is also doubtlessly a “less ideal” use to boot. But as for our living organs as opposed to our artifcacts: who knows what will bappen if we remove ourselves from the movement towards the Good.

Actively frustrating the natural purpose (the purpose it has via its nature) so that one is not aiming at its purpose. An act of disobedience. A personal offense. Ultimately it is the personal character of this that is the wrong-making factor. Rebellion ala Dante. A no no. The Patriarchy. Messing up God’s meticulously-arranged train set. Above, need to ask what is the wrong-making factor in all of this. Celibacy still an issue for the Thomist since the knife in the drawer isn’t a thing with a nature that defines its telos.

[In the Thomistic framework, all purpose ultimately stems from a mind — God’s mind –that knowingly creates things with natures and assigns them, through those natures, “targets” to aim at. The heart “aims” at pumping blood (and normally succeeds in its aim) for example.

Similarly, human beings knowingly create artifacts with forms that enable those artifacts to be “for” things, which relations in turn let human beings to fulfill purposes. The hammer is for pounding nails in; toasters are for making toast. If the hammerhead is made of glass, it cannot support this “for relation” to the nail and wood. It is a bad hammer. It needs the proper form (including, for one, a hammer head made of steel) in order to be a good hammer, a proper hammer. The same holds mutatis mutandis for the toaster and for any other item of equipment. It is as if good and bad entered the world via equipment, Heidegger’s Zeuge and the introduction of norms and standards via das Man.

Likewise, Thomas’ God knowingly created (to fulfill some purpose?) “natural” (i.e., non-artifactual) entities with forms (natures) that make them suitable (no glass hammers here) to be “for” things (the heart is for pumping blood throughout the body) which for relations are intrinsic to them such that they can be said to have teloi — purposes. The heart beats because it intrinsically “wants” to beat; kidneys filter blood because they intrinsically “want” to filter blood; although, of course, this “wanting” is not a conscious desire. Once begun, all of them together constitute the life of a living creature, who in some cases has consciousness, knowledge, and intentionality.

[Why bring in the analogy with tools at all? Because tools get used. ]

Thomists tend to speak in terms of “powers” and “faculties”, and organs. But in doing do, they are often led astray. We really need to be splitters here. And we should be talking about systems and the roles and purposes particular organs play in these systems. Otherwise we get very seriously led astray.

Evolutionary Purpose — Metaphorical Or Literal

The natural selection that drives evolution is blind. No intelligence divine or human (except in limited circumstances) drives it. No intelligence designed the heart, for example, so that it would pump blood in a system of bodily organs. Unlike the toaster, the heart does not have a purpose derivative from a designing intelligence. And not possessing intelligence itself, it does not have any conscious purpose (‘what I am meant to do is pump blood, pump blood, pump blood.’) It would seem, then, that “purpose” can at best be used metaphorically when discussing biological organs and organ systems. For, it would seem, there is no purpose that is not purpose derivative from a designing intelligence or purpose that is not part of the intentionality of a entity capable of cognition.

At best we can adopt the “teleological stance” towards an organ and the systems in which it is embedded. We can regard the heart which the surgeon has just laid on the table as “wanting” to beat because its continued pumping action does kind of look that way. Or we can. We see the various organ system as if they were designed by an intelligence because they seem to fit together so intricately — though of course kludges such as the design of the foot or of the pharynx, or such monstrosities such as passing the urethra through the middle of the prostate, may bring us up short sometimes.

The above might very well be correct. If it is, the Verbose Stoic’s ruminations on purpose as it relates to evolution are obviously completely beside the point. The blindness of natural selection would guarantee the organ whose form has been selected for has no purpose.

However, this picture faces a challenge from the work of Ruth Garrett Millikin, who denies that the blindness of natural selection means that the forms selected for have no purpose (in either of the two senses of “purpose” sketched above). Our talk of organs as having purposes is not merely metaphorical, according to Millikin. Henceforth I will call “purpose” used in this non-metaphorical way “biological purpose”. Millikin thinks that biological purpose supports a program of naturalizing all cases of purpose, including those than require cognitive agency.

Millikin’s main concern is with using biological purpose as a special case of ‘purpose’ that illuminates other cases of ‘purpose’, including the cases that require cognitive agency. In particular, she wants to illuminate the meanings of words, which she compares to tools with functions and purposes. But what she says also has a direct bearing on the viability of Natural Law Theory. For the moment, at least, talking about biological purpose would seem to leave room for the requirements of Natural Law Theory. So for the sake of “steelmanning” my argument against Natural Law Theory, I will be talking about Millikin’s biological purpose, and not about purpose that requires cognitive agency. Shortly, however, we will see that biological purpose severely vitiates Natural Law Theory. To put the matter a bit less politely, Millikin’s biological purpose reduces Natural Law Theory to a rather insubstantial gray smear.

A common metaphor used to describe ‘purpose’ is throwing a dart at a target. The purpose or goal was successfully achieved when the dart hits the bullseye at the center of the target. Purpose is usually conceptualized in terms of what would count as success. However, missing the target is at least as important as hitting it, if not more so, when conceptualizing purpose. Important in conceptualizing ‘purpose’ is what would count as failure to achieve the purpose.

The importance of failure in conceptualizing purpose can be seen by comparing a system such as the hydrological cycle with a system of which the heart is a part.

The hydrological cycle:

Many processes work together to keep Earth’s water moving in a cycle. There are five processes at work in the hydrologic cycle: condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, and evapotranspiration. These occur simultaneously and, except for precipitation, continuously.

Together, these five processes – condensation, precipitation, infiltration, runoff, and evapotranspiration- make up the Hydrologic Cycle. Water vapor condenses to form clouds, which result in precipitation when the conditions are suitable. Precipitation falls to the surface and infiltrates the soil or flows to the ocean as runoff. Surface water (e.g., lakes, streams, oceans, etc.), evaporates, returning moisture to the atmosphere, while plants return water to the atmosphere by transpiration.

We can think of each of these processes as having a role to play in the total system comprising the hydrological cycle, just as we can think of the heart, lung, kidneys and so on as having a role to play in the system comprising the human body. We can think of each process in the hydrological cycle as having a function, just as we can think of each organ in the system comprised by the body as playing a role in the total system. The clouds send down precipitation (rain, hail, snow), some of which is soaked into the ground and some of which runs off to find iself (iun most cases in the ocean, where evaporation replenishes the clouds, when then produce precipitation, and so on. It is difficult to see how any given process in this cycle can be said to fail. Oceans gonna send up evaporation; clouds gonna precipitate, no matter what. There is no tenuousness to this as long as background conditions remain the same (the laws of nature remain the same; the sun doesn’t turn into a red giant that causes the earth to lose all its water, and so on.) At the risk of going even further beyond my actual knowledge of these matters than even the most patient physicist will countenance, the entropy of the hydrological cycle is already pretty high and has very little danger of falling into an even more random, more entropic state. There is very little that is unlikely about each process in the hydrological cycle.

The farmer, of course, may view the cloud as failing in its function of producing rain. But ‘producing enough rain (but not too much) so that the corn can grow and produce food’ is not part of the hydrological cycle. It is, rather, a benefit on the side, no matter what hte farmer may project onto that cycle. (The farmer may naively think, for example, that ‘God has designed the cycle so that my not starving to death is one of its aims’.) It is hard to say how, within the hydrological cycle itself (eliminating anything extraneous to it, such as the farmer and their concerns), any of these processes could fail. When I throw a dart at a target, aiming for the bullseye, it is more than possible for me to fail in my endeavor. Especially when my skill level is low, here will be a degree of randomness in where on the target the dart hits, assuming it lands inside the target at all. The more randomness, the more all over the place the darts land. Consistently hitting the bullseye is a low-entropic state of affairs; often (or even always) hitting outside the bullseye is a higher-entropic state of affairs, the more so the further (and the more often) one gets away from the bullseyes.

But it makes no sense to say that any one of them has a purpose. For there is no standard internal to the system as a whole by which something that happens can count as a failure on their part. The farmer may think the cloud has failed in its function of bringing rain. But that is just the farmer, whose worries about having enough water for their crops are parochial and have nothing to do with the cycle itself.

[Purpose as metaphorically applied to biological systems. Purpose as a different, but related concept when applied to such systems. I will be concentrating on the latter, but with lots of side-long glances at the former. ]

[Two very different systems utilize the same infrastructure — the urethra. The same substructure in the brain performs what are in one way two very different functions, but are in a way the same — dealing with spikes. One can easily imagine l]the one evolving into the other. Perhaps the blood sugar gets controlled first, then the emotion. Reproduction and male bonding.]

[[Start out with the “as if”. This quickly bites the dust with all the kludges. End up with a new, and different concept ‘purpose’. Metaphor of very very thin layers peeled away one by one. The Thomistic concept ‘purpose’ only starts to work only at the very topmost layer. Have to dig into the history because that is what the organic purpose is: based on evolutionary selection for. By now it should be evident that claims to the effect of ‘it is obvious’ are just silly.]]

Evolutionary “purpose” is an abstraction; it is what one gets when one removes all the evolutionary steps: Above, we’ve seen the Verbose Stoic assert that sex and its specific traits have been selected by evolution for reproduction suffices to show that the purpose of sex is for reproduction, as if that were not “just obvious” already. Just as it is “obvious” that eating is for supplying the body with nutrients.

But, obviously, any concept ‘purpose’ that might fit with ‘evolution’ does not merge well with the Thomistic concept ‘purpose’ as employed in Natural Law theory. In modern biology, thinking of organs as literally having teloi is suspect. One is indulging in metaphor when they say that the still-moving heart that the surgeon places on the table “wants” to beat. Nor does a Mind possessing out-and-out unabashed intentionality drawing up blueprints in divine mental space have any place in modern biology, a point underscored by the abject failure of the Intelligent Design movement.

As If An Infinite Mind: But let’s try this. Let’s regard the organs, the various organ systems, and the totality of systems working together as if they were designed by an infinite (or at least extremely capacious) Mind possessing intentionality that assigns them purposes. In doing so, one gains a view of the organs and systems as parts in an overall system. Each part has an assigned role to play within that system. The heart’s role for example is to pump blood into which the lungs, playing their role, will supply oxygen and from which they will draw carbon dioxide and remove that gas from the body. The kidneys will maintain a balance between water and various electrolytes and other substances, and so on. All these parts work together extremely well and have an amazing fit with one another. The view that we are getting on these parts is how they function within this system now and how their morphology now enables this functioning.

The various organs and systems give the impression of being designed by an extremely intelligent Mind. It seems incomprehensible how an ordinary mind could come up with this. But the attempt to see these organs and systems as if they were the result of intelligent design hits a brick wall, so to speak, when one considers the numerous kludges that have resulted from the evolutionary process. The pharynx is one such kludge; the human foot is another; the urethra in relation to the prostate is yet another. The designer or engineer employs foresight in a stable environment. [Pressureless. No sense of DO SOMETHING NOW!!!! Lead to just one blueprint.] The principles of airlift are not going to suddenly change anytime soon. But the numerous kludges evolution has arrived at show blindness, not foresight. Evolution arrives at highly contingent solutions at the spur of the moment, highly constrained by what is already there, and responds to pressures that cannot be foreseen. This may not be obvious for some systems (heart, circulatory system, lungs, kidneys and so on), but is drastically obvious in the case of others. The idea of a super-intelligent designer goes out the window even as an as if construct, Calvino’s non-existent knight consisting in pure appearance.

So instead of speaking as if an extremely capacious Mind designed the human body, let’s speak as if a mind that suffers from a certain degree of finitude designed the body. Capable of cluelessness at moments, this mind is constantly facing new exigencies, some of which may be due to its own finitude. Let me compare this mind to the boy depicted in my first or second-grade reader who, while painting the floor of his wooden clubhouse red, paints himself into a corner. Like evolution, the boy lacks one degree or another of foresight. Evolution is 100% lacking in foresight because it is lacking in consciousness. The boy, though blessed with consciousness, nonetheless lacks enough foresight to avoid painting himself into a corner; but he has enough fore-sight to picture a possible future in which he is outside the clubhouse. Luckily, a saw is hanging in the very same corner he is stuck in (contingency, chance). The boy needs to get out (a need that corresponds to evolutionary pressures); his stomach is growling. But he is facing constraints imposed by what is already there (the wet red paint on the floor). He escapes these constraints by sawing a hole in the wall and climbing through. This is a rather inelegant solution from the engineering standpoint, but it gets the job done.

To make the two cases even more alike, we can imagine the boy to lack fore-sight completely. He is now a zombie, lacking any consciousness at all. Nonetheless, through pure blind instinct of the sleepwalking sort, he grabs the saw, saws a hole through the wall, and steps outside. This thought experiment is not totally outside the bounds of mundane possibility (in other words, it is not just a logical possibility), since sleepwalkers can perform very complex actions — driving, preparing food, eating even though their brains are in a state of very deep, dreamless sleep.

His action has a directionality that maybe isn’t totally different in kind from the directionality exhibited by the sunflower plant as it bends to follow the sun. Both are in one sense “blind”, but also not so blind as to be unresponsive to the environment. In both cases to be explained by numerous biochemical events (of, I assume, differing complexity), communications between cells, different systems getting called into action, and whatever else, that track and respond to the environment.

Evolution, the sunflower, and the zombie boy, then, have this directionality in common. Evolution will do what it can (speaking metaphorically) with the 26 parts of the human foot in the direction of increasing suitability (assuming this still possible, which I suspect it is) for walking and running upright — assuming that the environment remains such that walking/running upright is still a selective advantage. It will do what it can (in a way that lacks foresight and knowledge of good engineering principles and perhaps lazily takes the path of least resistance — “cost”, after all, is yet one more prior constraint) to get the prostrate to develop from embryonic urethra tissue in such a way that urine can still leave the body — at least until one is in his 60s and one’s success rate at passing his genes along declines a bit. Maybe evolution has stopped for us at its present point; but if it hasn’t it will be moving in the direction of less impeded urine flow for a longer time. I assume.

Implicit in this directionality is the concept ‘selection’. A number of directions are excluded, and just one direction remains. The wet paint on the floor excludes the boy’s exiting the clubhouse via the normal doorway. Just one path remains — one that needs to be forced open through a creative act with the saw. Structuring the pharynx to make one even more vulnerable to choking to death (in the absence of some advantage great enough to overcome this rather large disadvantage) is excluded; the present setup or one making less vulnerable to choking remain. When trying to choose one piece in the antique shop among several candidates, one excludes all items until finally only the 19th-century set of drawers with a red marble top remains. The direction out of the clubhouse, the less vulnerable pharynx, the French set of drawers are all “selected”. One may try to argue that only the French cabinet was selected in a literal, non-metaphorical sense — yet all these instances of “selection” | selection are homologous. After the exclusions, the “selected” | selected thing is what remains.

The quotation marks in the preceding are meant, by the way, to indicate that the term in question is possibly (but not necessarily) being used metaphorically; the absence of quotation marks indicate the term is definitely being used literally. I usual I will let the context make it clear whether the quotation marks indicate whether the term is being referred to (“red” has three letters) or is being used maybe metaphorically maybe literally (the painting is “sad”; he has a “cold” cruel heart; the sunflower plant has the sun as its “telos” or “goal” or “target”; the program calling this Java class does not “know” the variables private to that class).

Implicit as well in the directionality is the concept ‘goal’ — what is being moved towards. Were the boy conscious, he would be moving towards a goal (getting outside). His sawing actions would stop when he achieves this goal. The sleepwalking or zombie boy’s sawing likewise stops when he is outside. His actions have this likeness then to moving towards a “goal” — the two are homologous.

Were the zombie boy to make an actual appearance in real life, one would surely first try to explain what is happening in terms of similarly amazing feats accomplished by sleepwalkers. In my experience, one can enter into an amazingly coherent conversation with a sleepwalker who is denying she is sleepwalking in the living room and affirming that she is in bed in her room, sound asleep. The “goal” directedness of the zombie boy would be explained by whatever is going on in his nervous system and his interactions with his environment. The “goal” directedness of evolution (not in general, but in particular cases) would be explained by the principle of Natural Selection. The goal directedness of my partner and me in acquiring the antique French chest of drawers would be explained by God only knows what.

Implicit also in the directionality are the concepts ‘purpose’ and ‘proper function’. The “purpose” of the hole in the clubhouse wall is to let the boy through. (And remember that “purpose” is in quotation marks to indicate that I am not committing either to a literal use or to just a metaphorical use of the word.) The “purpose” of the hole is not to provide an interesting compositional element for a painter who happens upon the scene and sets up their easel there. That is not what the hole is for. That was not what the hole was generated in order to accomplish. That is not what accounts for its form, its morphology. This is neither the “purpose” nor the “proper function” of the hole, because this was not what was selected for under the pressures of both prior circumstances (his having painted himself into a corner) and continued existence (the zombie boy needs to eat and to drink in order to live, which he can only do outside the clubhouse).

It turns out that, arguably, a concept ‘purpose’ has a place in evolution after all. It is just a different ‘concept’ than the one that deals with intentional states and representations. This is a concept that requires history in order to really understand purpose.

Get rid of representations inside the skull and we are left with precious little difference between the sleepwalking zombie-like boy and evolution. We have seen the similarity between the evolution of a particular system and the sleepwalking/zombie boy getting out of the clubhouse. Both display direction and selectivity. Now on the standard theory of mind, the boy differs from an evolutionary process because the boy has inside his skull (unconscious) representations of course, while the evolutionary process of course does not. If, however, as Hutto and Milne argue advancing their REC theory of “basic mind”, such representations are not needed to explain the boy’s behavior, that one point of difference disappears. If the boy’s behavior has a telos, a purpose, then so does the evolutionary process. Conscious representations inside the skull are just icing on the cake, forming a different kind of purpose. This would be the radical position.

But if REC is not correct, we are left with “purpose” and purpose. A particular evolutionary process is like the boy in certain striking respects. This would be the most conservative position.

At the very least we have the as if “purpose” of a sleepwalking zombie-like boy who has painted himself into a corner.

Norms. History. The systems view merely is merely the topmost blueprint in a layer of blueprints.

We end up with evolution eliminating what I strongly suspect is the prime motivation for Natural Law Theory — justifying the continued Christianist persecution of LGBTQ+ people that started around 950 CE.

But even apart from that, Natural Law Theory itself gets undermined, not just particular conclusions it draws. The picture it paints of the body as an assemblage of tools — the human body as a kind of swiss army knife — gets undermined because what is going on is far more dynamic than that. Evolution is constantly taking old structures and repurposing them and reshaping them, old parts continually get fitted into new organs or “faculties” (a power of letting the creature move via a whip-like motion; a power to give the creature food by stinging another one-celled creature.) Structures end up multi-tasking: the urethra, in a general capacity to propel fluids out of the body, carries both semen and urine out; the hippocampus in the brain, in a general capacity to deal with wave spikes, regulates both emotions and blood sugar. Different systems or “faculties” interpenetrate — vision and touch. The Natural Law Theorist would have been better off sticking with the biological examples, and leaving the tool examples alone. But above all, a less crude treatment of the biology makes it plain that any statements as to the “obviousness” of the purpose of an organ are just silly. The depth of history alone precludes any purpose from being “obvious”. More generally, the difference between the medieval and modern points of view discussed here.


Let me present the claim that the zombie boy’s action of sawing a hole through the wall and stepping out are driven by a purpose — to exit the clubhouse now that he has painted himself in a corner. One might think that the boy must be conscious of this purpose if it is count as the action’s purpose. But sleepwalkers, certainly, can perform very complex actions — driving, preparing food, eating even though their brains are in a state of very deep, dreamless sleep. Even in the absence of consciousness of a purpose, this behavior looks purposeful and directed. The behavior continues, with constant adjustments, until it is completed. Certainly this claim would be unproblematic if the boy were conscious of this goal. So it is quite plausible that, in my thought experiment, the zombie boy’s action is purposeful. More later on representations in the head.

This is the function of the hole. What is more, this function is its proper function. Why? It was created to fulfil this (presumably one-time) purpose. This is the purpose that determines the hole’s “morphology”. It was not created in order to provide an interesting compositional element for the painter who happens to set up their easel near that spot. That is not what the hole is for.

But remember that this purpose is to let the boy exit the clubhouse given that he has painted himself into a corner. If the hole is boarded up soon after, this is the only purpose it serves. Later, of course (t1, t2, t3 … tn), if the hole is not boarded up, it might be “repurposed” so that its function is to allow an alternate way out of the clubhouse. But for now (t0) its sole purpose is to allow, given that he has painted himself into a corner, the zombie boy to leave the clubhouse so that he can eat, drink, and do whatever else is needed to maintain his bodily integrity and continue to live. Later, the purpose might change to the following: given that the hole is already there, let’s use it as an alternative exit from the clubhouse. (We would smooth down its rough edges some first.) In both cases, the purpose is generated by what is already there, the “given that”, present in the context of various needs to be satisfied (need to eat and drink in order to live) or opportunities to be grasped (‘it would be nice to have an alternative way out’). The purpose of the hole, what it is for, is determined by its history (these two ‘given thats’) occurring in the context of exigent needs and opportunities opening up. We need to understand these three items: the history of the hole, the needs, the opportunities it opens up, in order to understand the hole’s purpose.

I will be using the phrases “the purpose of x”, “the proper function of x”, and “what x is for” interchangeably, though I am sure that the words will acquire different emphases as I go on. Let me add one more phrase to the brew. The hole should be used for leaving the clubhouse given that the boy needs to go outside (at least eventually). It is supposed to be used that way, since that is what is was created for. Later, if the hole is not boarded up, it should be used as a quick exit if there is a need for this (say, the boy needs to escape from the clutches of a kidnapper), and it is supposed to be used for bottle-neck-relieving feats like this, among whatever other purposes it may serve. In both cases, the ‘should’ is relative to a need; the ‘supposed’ relative to a range of possible purposes, not all of which may be specified. There is therefore a normative aspect to the purpose(s) of the hole. “Proper” as in “proper function is a normative concept, after all.

These norms don’t exist for the painter; allowing for an interesting composition is not what the hole is for. For the shape of the hole, its morphology, is not determined by the painter’s needs (there is no way that it should be so that the painter can, for example, balance his composition). Neither is its morphology determined by what opportunities it presents to the painter. (Though of course the shape the painter places on their canvas or paper is so determined.)

I have made the boy not just lacking in the foresight needed to avoid painting himself into a corner, but lacking in any representations at all in his head. I have done this in order to make this example as close as possible to the examples of evolution I will present. Evolution in these examples proceeds blindly, that is to say, in the absence of any representation. What do I mean by “a representation”? The representation |luminous moon| embodies a content, whether this take the form of neuronal activity or some sort of Berkeleyian “Visibile Idea” existing in a kind of mental space otherwise known as “the Mind”. The content of the representation is ‘that the moon is now appearing in the sky.’ According to what I take to be the standard view, one is normally conscious of the moon in the sky by means of this representation. This does not necessarily mean of course, that one is conscious of the representation itself. Some versions of the standard view will accept the occurrence of representations in the head | mind that do not result in consciousness of some object or other. I will call these “unconscious representations”.

I try to make the case of the zombie boy not too outlandish by appealing to sleepwalkers, who are sometimes known to exhibit highly organized behavior. Now of course it is possible that the sleepwalkers’ behavior is guided by unconscious representations in the head — this would be, I take it, the standard view of what is gong on. But if Hutto and Myin (Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds Without Content) have succeeded in establishing what they call Radical Enactive Cognition (REC) as, not just a plausible alternative to, but also as having more in its favor than the standard view, I may be allowed to entertain the possibility that the sleepwalker’s behavior is determined not by unconscious representations in their head, but solely by relations to their environment running in a continually updated loop from environment to brain and back again.

Keeping in mind the example of the boy painting himself into a corner, let me advance the hypothesis that in the course of evolution of the urethra and the prostate, nature painted itself into a corner. As the prostate develops from the urethra in the embryo, something in the history of that development blocks a solution more elegant than passing the urethra through the prostate, just as the history of the boy’s painting the floor blocks him from leaving the clubhouse through the normal exit (assuming he cannot, through whatever taboo, step in the wet paint). Naturally, being just an Oracle DBA and not an evolutionary biologist or biochemist, I have no idea what that constraint may be. Yet this sure does look like a case of nature painting itself into a corner, leaving no option except to pass the urethra through the middle of the prostate if urine or semen are to exit the body. Both the boy’s sawing a hole in the wall so that he can get out and nature’s passing the urethra through the middle of the prostate are path-dependent solutions. These solutions would never have been implemented had the history been different.

What is the purpose of having the prostate develop around the urethra so that the urethra passes through the middle of this organ? Given such and such a developmental history, such and such constraints, unknown to me, this was the only realistic solution. The boy had to saw a hole in the wall given that he has painted himself into a corner. Nature has to punch a hole through the middle of the prostate to let urine and semen through given that, in its prior development, it has painted itself into a corner. Development: both evolutionary and embryonic.

History quote

By now, I hope to make at least prima-facie plausible the idea that an organ, system, or functionality (eating, sex) has a “purpose” aka “proper function” as determined by Natural Selection. I am not going to try to show that “purpose” understood this way is being used metaphorically or really is a variety of purpose as that term is understood literally. Blind purpose but literally purpose nonetheless. I will say, however, that if the latter is the case then two different concepts ‘purpose’ are in play here. We would be in the same situation of observing a conceptual change like that which Bas van Fraassen observes between the Newtonian concept ‘mass’ and the Einsteinian concept; or that Feyerabend observes between the Homeric concept ‘honor’ and the Classical Greek concept.

That we should not be applying the concept ‘purpose; at all in the context of evolution is still a viable position, in my opinion. Natures blindness is total; to attribute to Nature anything the least analogous to teloi is to place oneself well outside the limits of naturalism. If this is the best view, then the claim that non-reproductive sex is “less important” or at least not “ideal” and possibly immoral gets zero support from evolution. However, I will entertain, partly for the sake of argument, that the similarities between the intentional concept ‘purpose’ and the evolutionary concept just described is close enough to make the latter viable. If the latter is viable, then it is a version of teleofunctional semiotics. This is the idea, applied to “basic mind”, that the organs, systems and functionalities delimit a concept ‘should’ that is not prescriptive, but descriptive, and therefore does not violate Hume’s widely-accepted assertion than an ought cannot be derived from an is.

As if infinitely, or at least hugely, intelligent designer. This basically falls by the wayside. But an “as if” purpose remains. But as we look at the similarities with the boy in the clubhouse, perhaps we can go with ‘two different concepts ‘purpose’, like ‘two different concepts ‘honor’, or three different concepts ‘mass’.


The Thomistic concept ‘purpose’ relies on intentionality, on representation. Also on a should that is both prescriptive, based on an authority the contravention of which defines ‘immoral’. Also a bit like Heidegger’s das Man defining or “articulating” the proper way to use this or that piece of equipment, the norms of a practice the contravention of which seems “immoral” at least at first. A funny consequence of comparing human beings and their organs, systeams, and functionalities to tools, of all things. Weird.

But now we are discussing the evolutionary concept ‘purpose’, which takes out the representational part and leaves a remainder — selection, or rather Natural Selection.


Evolution lacks foresight and in that way differs from that subset of intentionality that we call “purpose”. But the two phenomena are similar in one regard: their nature is to select. The boy’s focus on the goal of getting out of the clubhouse excludes for the moment his focusing on any other goal — he can go in just one direction at a time; he can’t focus on this goal and then at the same time start painting the walls red. One thing at a time. To select is to exclude; and to exclude is to select (with the set of selected members possibly being identical with the bull set, if everything under consideration is excluded). Likewise, evolution’s selection black wings for certain English moths excludes their having white wings. The white-winged moths get eaten by predators and do not pass their genes along. So purpose considered as a a species of intentionality has this in common with natural selection. In fact, one might even try to base intentionality on something akin to natural selection, as I believe Daniel Dennett tries to do.

The urethra passes through the middle of the prostate, causing problems later in life when the prostate swells, making the passage of urine through the urethra more difficult. This is hardly an elegant design. It is a bit clunky, in fact. It violates the design principle that one should limit as much as possible the chances that what is happening with one organ should negatively affect what is happening with another. Surely an infinite Mind, or even just an enormously expansive one, should realize this. And why the meticulous care shown on certain systems of tke body but the sheer clunkiness of this particular kludge?

Other examples abound — the human foot for example. All these cases involve modifications to and development of organs and systems from already-existing organs and systems. The foot evolved from 26 different already-existing parts which were modified to support upright walking and running — no engineer would start off with so many different parts the assembly of which into an elegant design would be much more difficult. In the male fetus, the prostate develops from the urethra below the bladder. In all these cases, natural selection is constrained by what is already there, with which it does the best it can.

Evolution behaves like the boy who, in a story in my first or second grade reader, decides to paint the floor of his clubhouse red. Lacking foresight, he ends up painting himself into a corner. Luckily, there is a saw hanging on on the wall in that corner. The only immediate solution to getting out of the clubhouse without messing up his shoes and his paint job is to saw a hole in the wooden wall. That hole serves a purpose: given the constraints imposed by what is already there, get out of the clubhouse. Likewise, the “fit” of the urethra with the prostate serves a purpose: given the constraints of what is already there, let urine and semen pass to the outside. Likewise, the foot. In order to ascertain the purpose of these systems, one has to look at their evolutionary history — at what they were selected for given constraints. We are no longer in the territory of organs playing roles in a system.

Why is this hole in the wall here? someone may ask. In other words, what is the purpose of this gaping hole? “So that a person inside can get out” is not a totally satisfactory answer. What was the purpose of putting this hole here now, t0? The boy needed access to the outside, and given the constraints he was under (he had painted himself into a corner) he had no other means of gaining that access. We don’t fully understand the purpose the hole serves at t0 until we understand the history: boy paints himself into corner (because of previous developments, he faces a constraint) and saws his way out (his inventiveness finds a way around, or rather, through the constraint). Later, after t0, the hole may serve another more broadly defined purpose, one in which the original constraint need not be specified in order to grasp the purpose. But at t0 the purpose was to let the boy get out, given the constraint he had created for himself. A more narrowly-defined purpose, in which we need to understand the ‘given that’ before we can understand the purpose.

What was the purpose of putting the hole here and not there? Because at t0 the boy had painted himself into a corner. The question already aligns itself with the history. What is the purpose is perhaps more in the domain of the engineer.

The hole appeared at time t0 so that the boy could get out. The history of the foot and of the prostate is a succession of evolution’s painting itself into a corner again and again and finding a way out, again and again. The engineer anticipates things, has foresight and can apply that foresight in a stable environment; evolution of foot, prostate and so on is a series of spur-of-the moment responses to pressures that really cannot be foreseen because the environment is fluid and always changing.

This was selected for in a blind way, without foresight. Contingency. The saw just happened to be there. So the concept of evolutionary purpose as stemming from a Mind’s intentionality is out. But there is something this has in common with intentionality, and that is selection. Maybe evolutionary selction form hte basis of intentionality. Anyhow, I will show what we get when we analuyaze selectivity is also what is going on with theheart and kidneeys.

Either ability to remove the constrains and start all over, or done in one go.

What we see, at least initially, seems consistent with this Mind working out everything in one go. At least if there were a succession of blueprints with improvements and revisions in the succeeding blueprints, we don’t see any evidence of that. Yet.

[In doing so, one performs an act of abstraction similar to that performed by the anatomist and illustrator who creates a picture of the arterial/venous system and the nervous system, using different colors perhaps a bit distant from their real colors and outlining these systems with a clarity that no student cutting open a body will ever see in real life. The anatomist/artist/illustrator abstracts away from everything that would hide these systems — blood, muscle fiber, connective tissue, other organs, whatever — and sets forth in a two-dimensional project lines, patterns, forms and colors that are at least vaguely similar to what is present in the actual body. Evolutionary history is the complicating factor.]

Now if one were to ask “why does the urethra pass right through the middle of the prostate?” the answer would have to be given in terms of the evolutionary pressures that led to Nature eventually ending up with that particular kludge. Although I am no evolutionary biologist, I would have to postulate a succession of forms, f1, f2, f3, … ftotal_kludge, Only after I displayed each form and elucidated the evolutionary pressures leading up to it, could I claim to have a complete answer to the above why question.

The same procedure would produce a complete answer to the question “why does the heart have the form it does?” This complete answer of course would bring into the picture the succession of forms of each organ that is connects directly or distantly to the heart, each organ making a contribution to the total system (the body) and cooperating with the others within that system. Except now the final result for many (I assume most) of the forms will be f1, f2, f3, … fabsolute_total_finess. The various organs and organ systems will be working together in a highly fine-tuned way.

To avoid being excessively long-winded, we could pretend that this system was delivered to us by a highly, highly skilled engineer who came up with a blueprint, a design. This design would assign to the various organs purposes. The purpose assigned by the designer to the heart is to pump blood which gets oxygenated by the lungs and gets filtered by the kidneys then releases carbon dioxide back into the lungs, and so on. The useful fiction of a “purpose” would drastically — and artificially — simplify the answer to the why question.

But this answer is an abstraction. First, we are lifting the organs and organ systems from their natural history, just as the anatomical illustrator lifts the arteries/veins or the nervous system from the confounding organs, muscles, connective tissue, or whatnot. . Second, the notion that a designer engineered this system is a conceit only. For, notoriously, there is nothing that a designer would explain that could not be explained by natural selection alone. If we talk about a design, we are taking, ala Daniel Dennett, the ‘design stance’ towards this system. In other words, it is a design without a designer. The designer is a bit like Italo Calvino’s nonexistent knight — armor only, nothing within, the appearance of intentional design only. And if we are talking about the “purpose” of each organ and system, we are operating in the realm of ‘as if’ only. Henceforth I will place “purpose” in scare quotes when referring to this abstractive sense of “purpose”. All the evolutionary steps are removed from the picture in order to simplify the explanation. [Appearance only, with no reality within.]

The purely as if nature of this stance becomes apparent when we ask what the non-existent designer had in mind when they placed the urethra through the middle of the prostate. When the question is asked this way, the answer is clearly ‘not much’. Kludges like this constitute an argument against “Intelligent Design” and in favor of Natural Selection as the best explanation for both the superbly fine-tuned character of our systems when they do work perfectly and for the kludgy character of those systems that create the impression a lot of stuff had to be unceremoniously shoved into a corner of the garage in order to get more important stuff done. The only real answer to the why question in this case must be stated in terms of a succession of forms conditioned by natural selection pressures.

But what I am describing here is teleofunctionalism. Purpose with modality; purpose with historical depth.

So sometimes it is useful to think of what got selected as there for a “purpose” — and sometimes this is much, much less illuminating. It makes much more sense to think of “purpose” when the corresponding engineering feat would be stupendous, and much less sense when that feat seems to display no intelligence at all. I will be getting back to this point shortly. For now, I want to focus on the problems created for the Thomist should they break down the conceptual walls of divinely ordained purpose and haul in that Trojan Horse, evolutionary “purpose”.

“Purpose” Weakens The Thomistic Moral Proscriptions

The Thomist is liable to think of the set of Thomistic purposes as one massive blueprint inscribed in stone, so to speak. Willfully to go against the purpose set for one is an act of defiance against the divinely ordained universal order. Defiance against the ultimate authority — perhaps pictured in one’s own mind as a patriarchal authority, white-bearded father figure in the sky — is a Bad Thing. This defiance is the wrong-making factor in same-sex physical acts (italicized because I will be trying to define this better later on).

Rembrandt’s Moses Is Pissed At The Israelites For Defying The Law; Is About to Smash The Stone Tablets In A Fit of Pique

The Aristotelian orientation of Thomas strongly suggests that this wrong-making factor kicks in for each and every physical homosexual act. One would not get back in the good graces of The Law by engaging in acts “open to reproduction” every now and then. Every act of a stone, not merely being prevented from moving towards its telos, the ground, but refusing to move towards this telos, would be an act of defiance on the part of the stone. Were stones capable of acts of defiance, of course.

But evolution is constantly changing the forms and functions of organisms. The blueprint of “purposes” is not set in stone. It is constantly under revision, as, for example, a one-celled creature’ stinger evolves into a flagellum. (or vice versa. Or perhaps both stinger and flagellum evolved from a previous structure. I believe the science is not yet totally clear on this question.)

Might it then be possible that homosexuality is in the process of becoming selected for, and therefore — given the notion that being selected for is a sufficient condition for having a “purpose” provided the result is not excessively kludgy — in the process of acquiring an evolutionary “purpose”? Might it already have such an evolutionary “purpose” as evidenced by a selective advantage?

It Turns Out That Homosexuality Is Selected For And Therefore Has Several “Purposes”

So even the weakened form of a proscription based on “purposes” against non-reproductive sex in general and homosexuality in particular is highly problematic. Homosexuality has several selective advantages, and therefore several “purposes”.

At first it may seem impossible that homosexuality could have a selective advantage. Homosexual acts (at least those of the more crude sort in which gloop passes from one man to another, or two women acheive or try to acheive organsm with one another) do not lead to reproduction. If there is a gene (or set of genes) making one gay, it would seem that those are less likely to get passed on to the next generation. If one’s orientation is exclusively gay, they will pass their genes along if they are forced to marry, or are trying at age 14 to prove they are not gay, and so on. Someone whose orientation is exclusively heterosexual would be far more likely to pass their genes along. So one would expect any “gay genes” to become rare, occurring only when random mutations occur.

Nonetheless, it has been apparent for a long time from twin studies and other studies that homosexuality has a strong genetic component — about one third. About one third of the variation in sexual orientation can be attributed to genetic factors, the scientists tell us. No single gene determines that one will be gay, but a number of genes working together under whatever conditions make it more likely that one will be so. If I am not mistaken, even the full set of “gay genes” don’t determine that one will be gay, but render one more susceptible to whatever influences in the womb lead in that direction. The full set just makes it more likely that one will be gay. Given that these genes would tend to inhibit reproduction, they surely have a very strong selective advantage that overwhelms that tendency. Getting strongly selected for, they get passed from generation to generation, with the result that there are always gay people around. So homosexuality is a product of evolution, just as is hetereosexuality.

Of course, the mere fact that something has a genetic component does not necessarily mean that that thing has been selected for, as the Verbose Stoic is quick to point out. Perhaps a little bit too quick:

Actually, just because something has a genetic component and exists in nature doesn’t mean that evolution selected for it, especially if that thing is relatively rare compared to the other traits that it is replacing. For example, blue eyes are relatively rare — you need to have two recessive genes as far as I can recall — but there is no selection benefit to having blue eyes (or a specific eye colour at all). Nearsightedness is also relatively rare and also genetic, but surely evolution did not select for it as it seems to only have a detrimental impact on people. [In spite of that “surely” the Verbose Stoic in fact does not know this. Article.] So that there is a genetic pattern that can produce or make homosexuality more likely doesn’t mean that it was selected for by evolution. It could simply be a neutral by-product like blue eyes or even a detrimental one like nearsightedness. This, them would make your analysis of what benefit it might have pointless, since we’d need to establish that it even has one in the first place.

The Verbose Stoic, at, last accessed 08/04/2021

The Verbose Stoic seems to have missed the past 60 years or so of debate among geneticists regarding the selective advantage that homosexuality must have, given how its prevalence in the face of the obvious inhibiting effect on reproduction “… is certainly too high for the trait to be maintained by recurrent random mutation”. (Article.) Frankly, my jaw dropped when I encountered the passage above. No one has any business discussing homosexuality and genetics while completely ignorant of the past 60 years of debate and research on this topic. Especially not with this breezily confident tone. This is a major blunder on the part of the Verbose Stoic, bad enough to make one wonder how many other blunders equally gross lurk in his work.

One arena of such debate compares the selective advantage of homosexuality to that of sickle cell anemia.

Sickle Cell Anemia: Our nonexistent designer had the bright idea of stiffening the red blood cells just a bit to make them resistant to Malaria in those regions where Malaria is a problem. This resistance is the “purpose” of the stiffening; it is what the stiffening is selected for. This is a brilliant “design”. The only problem is, first, some people die from this stiffening. When the stiffening becomes too great, people suffer terribly and die from sickle cell anemia. (This happens when one inherits two copies of a certain gene rather than just one. When one inherits just one copy, one gets the beneficial stiffening without the sickle cell anemia.) This prevents this trait from becoming spread universally (or almost universally) across the population as a whole. So, second, not all people living in these regions can get the benefit of this “design”.

Since we are still thinking in terms of “purpose” and in terms of an ‘as if intentionality’, Nature kills a certain number of people in order to obtain the benefit — the increased resistance to Malaria — for a certain number of other people. lingering in the realm of “as if”, it is as the our nonexistent knight, our non-existent designer, Evolution, Nature, arbitrarily chose — selected — a number of people to die so that certain selected others could get the benefit of the greater resistance to Malaria. Stiffening to a certain point gets selected for by Evolution — is an advantageous trait — but at the cost of those for whom too much stiffening occurs not reproducing and therefore not passing their genes along because death is a well-known inhibiting factor for reproduction.

So given that homosexuality is selected for by evolution, one obvious route to explore is that the genes that inhibit reproductive success possess some selective advantage that overcomes the inhibition. Some people — analogous to those who receive both copies of the sickle cell gene — will not reproduce because (to anticipate a bit) they are “100 percent gay“. But the inhibition of reproductive success will be made up for by the greater adaptive fitness of those who are not 100 percent gay. These people are analogous to those who have greater resistance to Malaria because they have inherited just a single copy of the sickle cell gene. The greater stiffness of the red blood cells makes it more difficult for the Malaria parasite to break through the cell wall, but the stiffness is not so great as to become pathological.

Now obviously the bigots will latch onto this one point of similarity between a pathology, sickle cell anemia, and being 100 percent gay, and claim that the latter must be a pathology as well. The one point of similarity is the inhibition of reproductive success. But such a claim would be seriously misguided. Inhibition of reproductive success is not by itself a pathology, though it is possible that a pathology may be responsible for it. We have to consider the matter case by case.

Sickle cell anemia causes misery and death for those who suffer from it. Let’s contrast this misery and death with two categories of those who are 100 percent gay. Those who are 100 percent lesbian can thrive as human beings (even with the serious oppression they face from the bigots), in terms of both Arbeit and Liebe. They need not fear unwanted pregnancy, and are much less susceptible to catching a disease from their f2f sexual activity than are people who engage in certain m2m sexual activities or m2f (or f2m) sexual activities. Those who are 100 percent male gay can also thrive in terms of both Arbeit and Liebe, and as human beings generally, with the added bonus of not having to fear unwanted pregnancy. Certain m2m sexual activities are more vulnerable to the transmission of disease, others less so.

But apart from these comparative advantages/disadvantages, there are all the joy-producing and life-enhancing gifts that the god Eros offers. When he takes the form of an Indian programmer, resplendent in his magnificent mid-twenties but wheelless, sitting next to one in the passenger seat as one drives him someplace, being in close proximity to all this dewy freshness is, by itself, one of life’s joys. Each of my LGBTQ+ readers may contemplate examples of this life-enhancing and life-giving joy from their own lives.

The bigots, therefore, may now be excused from the room. (I am now showing them to the door, giving them their coats, and calling an Uber for them.)

The Selective Advantage Of Homosexuality: Various Theories The Explanatory Value Of Which Remove Any Trace Of Obviousness

All of these things pertaining to both grief and joy, vulnerability and safety notwithstanding, what might be the selective advantage of homosexuality? At this point, I am turning into a splitter; and I will at least pretend that, by mentioning the various splinters, “homosexuality” is well-defined enough as to no longer need being put in italics. Homosexuality consists in, among other things, same-sex sexual attraction (SSSA) of varying strength, or (non-exclusive “or”) romantic feeling directed towards a member of the same sex (SSRF), again, of varying strength. Ritch C. Savin-Williams tells tells us that while SSSA and SSRF tend to go together, the two are not identical. One can be more intense than the other or even present while the other is absent. At least in the current iteration of this essay, I will be focussing almost entirely on SSSA — there are enough balls in the air to juggle as it is, given how “multivariate” homosexuality is. The contrary of SSSA is of course OSSA — opposite-sex sexual attraction. Also the distinction between ‘sexuality’ and ‘sexual identity’. Of course, we could just take a cup of alphabet soup and entangle any four letters, and find a phenomenon that could be comprised by ‘homosexuality’.

Homosexuality also consists in various physical acts between people of the same sex. I won’t try to find some commonality among these acts ala Plato’s Theaetetus. Instead, I will rest content with the pre-Socratic method of explicating a concept by producing a list. The list includes ‘the actual production and reception of a certain goop’, perhaps even in the absence of any SSSA at all by the participants. These participants might even include men who are 0 on the Kinsey scale. In her book, Jane Ward mentions a number of activities in fraternities and in the military some of whose participants may very well be of this sort. Cultural context matters a great deal as well. Russian soldiers fervently kissing one another probably should not go under the heading of ‘homosexual act’. American men fervently kissing one another in public usually does go under this heading. The flowery language of some (male) programmers from Southern India meant to say “hello” does not count; the same language spoken by an American man to another American man would almost certainly mean something to the effect of “I want to enter a dominant/submissive relationship with you in which I am your sex slave and cater to your every whim”. Which would of course fall under the rubric of ‘homosexuality’. (I would always start giggling every time a certain young man from Southern India spoke that way to me.)

But back to SSSA.

SSSA has been an evolutionary conundrum for some time now:

Human same-sex sexual attraction (SSSA) has long been considered to be an evolutionary puzzle. The trait is clearly biological: it is widespread and has a strong additive genetic basis, but how SSSA has evolved remains a subject of debate. Of itself, homosexual sexual behavior will not yield offspring, and consequently individuals expressing strong SSSA that are mostly or exclusively homosexual are presumed to have lower fitness and reproductive success. How then did the trait evolve, and how is it maintained in populations? 

Prosociality and a Sociosexual Hypothesis for the Evolution of Same-Sex Attraction in Humans, at, last accessed 08/14/2021, henceforth PSH

The Kinsey scale will be useful in trying to explain how SSSA evolved and how it is maintained in populations. The Kinsey scale tries to conceptualized degrees of SSSA. This scale ranges from 0 — people who have no degree of SSSA at all to 6 — those who have no degree of OSSA at all. One school of thought, the “lumpers”, categorizes the 0’s and 1’s as ‘straight’, and the 5’s and 6’s as gay. Everyone else — the 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s — are bisexual. But Savin-Williams wants to cut things more finely on the left, heterosexual end of the scale. 1’s, in his view, count as ‘mostly heterosexual’ (sexuality category) or ‘straight’ (identity category). (At the moment, I will leave the connection between the sexuality and identity categories unexplained.) 6’s are probably about 2 to 5% of the male population, Savin-Williams thinks. 0’s are 80 to 90 percent. Those who are 1 on the scale are what Savin-WIlliams calls “mostly heterosexual”, i.e., mostly straight if this affects how they identify themselves. These, he thinks, constitute about 10% of the male population, and they, along with the bisexuals, are the most important in terms of understanding the selective advantage of SSSA. Savin-Williams is reluctant to . The 2’s, 3’s. A certain unknown number are 0.5s — what Savin-Williams calls “primarily heterosexual”. In these men, SSSA is not 1,000% absent.

Although lumpers combine Kinsey 0s and 1s and label them as straight individuals, I side with the splitters. For me, Kinsey 1s are in between Kinsey 0s (exclusive heterosexuals) and Kinsey 2s (bisexual-leaning heterosexuals), and I refer to themas mostly heterosexuals. In a sense, mostly heterosexuality (the sexual orientation term) is a form of bisexuality, but a mostly straight (the sexual identity term) individual resides on the extreme left side of bisexualty, just inches from heterosexuality.

Both lumpers and splitters usually agree that the vast majority of young men congregate at the extreme ends of the continuum — they’re either straight or gay. I’ll readily concede that most young men are straight; some would say 90 to 95 percent, but I would guess that the percentage is closer to 80 if one removed mostly straight guys from the equation. Gay young men constitute around 5 percent of the population. The point of greatest contention is the number of young men who place themselves at neither end of the continuum. Although the precise number of these in-betweens is unknown, mostly straight is a substantial class, far greater than we might assume. Perhaps over 10 percent of the U.S. male population is mostly straight. That’s millions of guys.

Ritch C. Savin-Williams, MOSTLY STRAIGHT Sexual Fluidity Among Men, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2017, pp. 23-24, henceforth MS

There are any number of ways that SSSA could have proven to be a selective advantage for the mostly straights, whose very large numbers and asymptotically exclusive heterosexuality means that they are doing a lot of gene passing-along. The science will change. But the following will show plausibility, important given the conceit that it is impossible for SSSA to have a selective advantage.

One possibility is that having “gay genes” (whether just some of them or the full set but because of whatever chance factors one is still a 1 on the Kinsey scale) renders one a more attractive and desirable mate. One set of qualities that plausibly may make one both more attractive sexually and more desirable as a mate is also a set that renders one prone to be labelled a “fag” by the bigots:

It is not difficult to imagine a scenario in which mostly heterosexuality was an evolutionary advantage — and perhaps a preferred on at that. For example, the extra dosage of male-loving genes or prenatal hormones might have increased a mostly straight man’s sex appeal to females — given him greater sensitivity, more caring, less brutality, and greater child investment — and hence increased his desirability as a mate. More offspring reaching reproductive age may have been an outcome.

MS, p. 220

I state this theory in a humorous way here, though I would like to add that I suspect one’s place on the Kinsey scale is not determined solely by the number of gay genes one inherits because of whatever other factors that intervene. But you, dear reader, will get the idea.

To state the point in an exaggerated way, if you are a 0 on the Kinsey scale, you don’t first remove the dishes before peeing in the sink. If you are a 0.5 — perhaps you are Stanley Kowalski in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, you at least remove the dishes first.

Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Brando himself was not exclusively straight


Excuse me, I was lost in thought there for a minute.

Now where was I? Oh yes: If you are a 1 or a 2, women go up to you and say “Please, I want to have your baby”, with the obvious reproductive advantage. If you are a 5 or a 6, you go up to guys and say “Please, I want to have your baby”, with the obvious reproductive disadvantage.

That these “gay” qualities may make one attractive to women does not of course mean that these are the only qualities that do, or that together they comprise a necessary condition for attractiveness to women. .

Greater attractiveness to women is just one plausible (and quite possibly true) account of the selective advantage of SSSA. There are other ways as well in which SSSA plausibly creates a selective advantage. But before I turn to those, I would like first to consider an objection made on the Verbose Stoic’s blog post by a certain theoriginalmrx.

The qualities of greater sensitivity, more caring, less brutality, and greater child investment — in other words, greater prosociality — are the features that generate the selective advantage, not SSSA per se. Whatever generates the prosocial qualities is what also generates one degree or another of SSSA, but it is the prosocial qualities themselves, not the SSSA, that does the selective advantage work. The motivation for this objection is, of course, to avoid recognizing that SSSA has a “purpose”. And I will leave it to you, dear reader, to speculate what the motivations for that may be. Hint.

Regardless what its ultimate motive may be, this objection is easily refuted. Consider one’s helpfulness when Eros, shining with dewy freshness but, lacking Hermes’ winged sandals, and also lacking wheels, takes the form of an Indian Java and JSP programmer in his mid-twenties. (No, nothing happened other than that I drove him around every now and then.) Any degree of SSSA at all — Walt Whitman called it “adhesiveness” — will motivate this kind of behavior. The “pull” or “draw” may not even be felt that powerfully, so that one has to exercise one degree or another of abstinence, sexual repression (a good thing 99% of the time), or self-denial. One just wants to be helpful and feels a subtle draw theretowards. So it is easy to see how a guy who is mostly straight might engage in more helpful behavior than he otherwise would have by virtue of possessing even a very, very weak molar concentration of SSSA.

That molar concentration may be so weak that one may not be rendered totally speechless watching Channing Tatum fix his pickup truck. Nonetheless, even in its weak molar form, SSSA may function as both a draw towards and as a lubricant for same-sex sociality, encouraging less aggression towards and more cooperation with members of the same sex. (“Sure — I will help you fix your pickup truck, Mr. Channing Tatum. No problem at all.” As opposed to “Fix your own God-Damned pickup truck, you miserable S.O.B”.) I do rather suspect this this same homosociality aka adhesiveness is exploited by commercials for jeans and for other pants.

Ultimately, of course, this ‘draw and homosocial lubricant’ story will have to be vindicated by the science (and the science may eventually refute it). But the increased prevalence of homosexual behavior among social animals mentioned in the article linked to above begins to provide evidence for this story. If our nonexistent designer wants to create more prosocial behavior in a group of animals — say, the bonobos — she would want to provide both a draw — a magnet — and a lubricant aimed at encourage prosocial attitudes and behavior among a significant portion of that group, its male members

This isn’t a pickup truck he is fixing, but you get the idea

Women may observe the SSSA-inspired helpful behavior (without necessarily knowing that and to what degree it is SSSA-inspired) and find the prosociality both sexually attractive and desirable in terms of setting up a household. One wants a helpful, cooperative for a mate who will stick around to provide for their children and not suddenly get eliminated as a result of an act of aggression challenging another male. In other words, domesticated to one degree or another. Sensitive, helpful, cooperative. Slight but meaningful femininity among men.

The increased cooperation among fellow males brings up another extremely plausible advantage for SSSA:

[Addressing those who are mostly straight] Perhaps your life reflects the basic evolutionary biology of our history that reinforces male-male bonding and slight but meaningful femininity in men.

MS, p. 196


Perhaps ironically, during our prehistory bonding with same-sex others also improved fitness. It allowed women to mutually care for and protect their children and to develop agriculture while men were out gathering protein. In turn, becoming attached to other men enhanced men’s hunting skills and success through cooperation and joint efforts. Indeed, one could argue that the sate of mostly heterosexuality served an evolutionary purpose: such individuals had the heterosexuality to motivate mating and the homosexuality to create bonds with same-sex others. Having other men for sexual pleasure and romantic security while the sexes were separated could have promoted the survival of the species.

MS, p. 26

So far I have looked at the role SSSA and male-bonding plays in spontaneous interactions between males: driving a co-worker various places, helping a buddy fix his pickup truck. But there is also the role SSSA plays in gaining one admittance into a socially dominant group that commands greater access to a society’s resources. One is initiated into, becomes a member of the men of a tribe; a fraternity; a naval or military group through hazing rituals that are designed to be quite stressful ordeals, trials by fire. These rituals often involve real or feigned homosexual sex. One would expect those who have one degree or another of SSSA to be more likely to withstand these ordeals. Since the groups they become members of command more resources, their children are more like to survive and pass their genes along. Doubtlessly those who are mostly straight will be doing the bulk of the passing genes along work. The ‘mostly straight’ people are the equivalent of those who have just one copy of the sickle cell gene in areas where Malaria is prevalent

In fact, Jane Ward argues in NOT GAY: SEX BETWEEN STRAIGHT WHITE MEN, white hetereosexual masculinity is constructed in and through a remarkable amount of homosexual contact (see this review). Hetereosexual white men are well known for having greater access to the resources of society. With easier access to resources, one is more likely to achieve reproductive success.

There are then at least three ways in which SSSA plausibly makes for greater fitness in particular environments: 1) Increased sexual attractiveness to women and and increased desirability as a mate. 2) social lubricant and draw for male bonding; 3) entry into socially dominant groups. Assuming that all those who are not “totally straight” possess some degree of SSSA, they will be doing a great deal of the work for both 1) and 2) and will be passing their genes along. They are the equivalent of those inheriting just one copy of the sickle cell gene in those regions in which malaria is prevalent. Some of their not being totally straight may involve being happy to help Channing Tatum fix his pickup truck even if the SSSA never gets beyond a dimly-felt warm camaraderie. And those being initiated the dominant group via rituals with a homoerotic component will be less likely to flee, should they have one degree of another of SSSA, because the ordeal will be less of an ordeal.

Indeed, given all these select advantages, one may wonder how there could be any men at all who are 0 on the Kinsey scale — completely heterosexual. The answer is that SSSA is extremely common — comprising what is it … 15 percent, 20 percent of the male population?

Given this argument one might ask why SSSA is not more common in human populations. Indeed, Kirkpatrick (2000) wondered that bisexuality might be an adaptive optimum since it would allow for sociosexual affiliative behavior with members of both sexes. Kirkpatrick (2000) proposes that any reproductive disadvantage from a low level of same-sex sexual behavior could be minor or negligible, irrespective of the degree of SSSA associated with the behavior.

To this point we note simply that while individuals reporting exclusive SSSA are rare in most contemporary human populations, SSSA is not. While specific measures vary all studies recognize that males and females reporting some degree of SSSA are relatively common, and not rare (Kinsey et al., 19481953Kirkpatrick, 2000Mustanski et al., 2002Bailey et al., 2016). 


But the fact that a significant number of people displaying SSSA will not reproduce will, I assume, slow down the spread throughout the population of the genes responsible, as happens with the gene for sickle cell anemia. The math I will leave to those more versed than I am in the mathematical treatment of evolution. And yes, I will remind the bigots to please not assume, without argument, that anything that dampens down reproductive success must be a pathology.

“Homosexuality”, therefore, interpreted as SSSA, is selected for by evolution. Therefore the argument advanced by the Verbose Skeptic at the beginning of this essay (having been selected for by evolution is a sufficient condition for having a purpose), therefore, shows that homoselxuality as SSSA has a purpose. . For it shows that “homosexuality” as SSSA has a “purpose” — namely, to encourage and build social cohesion of the sort that will benefit the person carrying the “gay genes” and (provided he is not exclusively SSSA, or, if he is, social factors led to his mating with someone of the opposite sex anyway) his children. And to encourage as well those men to be good mates and to continue to provide for their children. (The SSSA is the vehicle — like a paint vehicle — that carries the prosocial behavior.) As with heterosexuality interpreted as OSSA, the ultimate “telos” of homosexuality interpreted as SSSA is reproduction — passing one’s genes onto the next generation. It is just that the mechanics of heterosexuality lead more directly than homosexuality to reproduction.

But wait — I ended up talking about SSSA and OSSA. The Verbose Stoic is, possibly, talking about something different, namely ‘sex’. So, after all this verbiage, let’s take another look at the Verbose Stoic’s assertion that I started this essay with:

…it really seems obvious that that is what sex is for.  It makes as little sense to claim that sex’s primary purpose isn’t necessarily for reproduction as it would be to claim that the primary purpose of eating is not to provide nutrition for the body.  Not only is that really what it does, not only is that what we’ve used it for for millenia, but it also is what evolution selected it and its specific traits for.  You can argue that sex for pleasure isn’t necessarily wrong, but not that it’s as important or ideal as sex for reproduction.

The Verbose Stoic, at, last accessed 08/04/2021

So perhaps we are two ships passing by one another in the night,

The Verbose Stoic is of course of something physical, like eating and digestion. The whole spectrum ranging from being rendered speechless by Marlon Brando or Channing Tatum, to having warm companionate feelings towards someone in a bromance is perhaps not itself something we call sex. Perhaps “sexuality” is a better term, denoting something vague and indefinite. Sex is crude, sweaty, physical. it is goopy stuff shooting out of a penis, which is perfectly fitted to a vagina — like a plug to an outlet — and fits an anus or mouth much less well. Maybe the homoerotic feelings — of whatever molar — were naturally selected for, but sex itself was selected for reproduction.

,This is of course silly — but lets hold this thought because there is a certain ineluctability proceeding from the stronger feelings to the physical act. We have seen above how the Natural Law Lawyers have a strange predilection, first, for interpreting the organism partes extra partes, and second, for conceiving each part, each organ, as a kind of tool, an artifact, many of which one uses for an end, that end being the telos it was designed for if one’s will accords with God’s. The good hammer is one that functions well for hammering, the way it is supposed to. The good knife can stay a good knife even if it is left in the drawer and never used. The good eye is one whose power to see is strong. The stinger of one one-celled organism, and the flagellum of the other, are a good stinger | flagellum if they perform well the function that evolution designed them for (turn other cells into food; propel the creature around).

Not all of this is completely wrong, but the paint in the picture starts to flake off when we consider the eye. As Eric DeJardin noted, it is wrong to say that the eye is what sees. The eye has a purely physical description: it focuses incoming light onto the retina, which then produces electrochemical signals that go to the brain. These signals mesh somehow with whatever wiring in the brain enables an organism to have tactile perception to let us see solid objects. and with emotional wiring, so that we can see a romantic moon. and so on. The eye is part of a visual system that meshes with other systems to produce enable our ordinary experience The visual system cannot be completely disentangled from the emotional system. I like to picture this meshing as as hugely complex meshing of “wires”, or “filament”, like some of the early drawings of parts of the brain: The visual system cannot be disentangled from the tactile system.

The meshing together of systems continues until we arrive at the unity of an organism. We cal go only so far in regarding the organism | person partes extra partes.

Now let’s give the penis the eye treatment. Just as the eye cannot be said to be ‘for seeing’, but for turning light into electrochemical signals, the penis is not “for reproduction”, but for receiving fluid from the kidneys or prostate and ejecting it to the outside in a splashy way. It meshes into two systems, the eliminatory, which is rather low-level, at the level of the basic plumbing, and what is in fact a social system enabling one to interact with other people in all sorts of ways, some good, some ambiguous (military and frat hazing), some bad (rape). The social system — the erotic-engagement-with-others system — gets us pretty far aways from the basic plumbing.

The engagement-with-others system includes such features as seeing attractive people resulting, through whatever nervous-system and arterial-system means, in extra blood flow to the penis, in turn resulting in penile enlargement; widening of the pupils of the eyes; whatever differences may exist in brain imaging (at the time of this writing I do not know what these differences are). I would guess that both the autonomous and the voluntary nervous systems are involved. Of course all the senses as well — especially sight, tactile, and olfactory. Sound and the emotions. The whole kitchen sink.

The ‘Same component’ different faculties or powers or systems’ apply here as well. The various parts, wiring, organs, and systems can be recycled, repurposed, and co-opted for different uses, so that the same wiring can serve very different purposes. For example, the area of the brain structure that lights up when projecting into the future also lights up when one imagines something. Either the structure first to support the imaginative faculty then evolved to support projections into the future, or vice versa; or perhaps the structure evolved to support both faculties simultaneously. These faculties would seem to be highly related to one another, after all.

Above, we have seen that, taken literally, the “purpose” of an organ makes no sense at all given that “purpose” is a snapshot of the organism’s current history abstracting away from its previous history, and is always in the process of evolving, whether this process be comparatively fast or slow. The concept, this abstraction, when taken literally, loses its traction once on realizes that organisms and their “organs” and their “faculties” are in constant flux. At best, we can only play a game of “as if” — it is as if the organ had a purpose assigned to it by some entity. But if the literal concept of “the purpose” loses its traction, so do the dependent concepts “the main purpose” or the “ideal purpose”. We are now about to see in a bit more detail why this may be so by looking at another case of one structure getting recycled and repurposed to fill another function.

Evolution is constantly repurposing organs and fitting them into different systems. After looking at a few examples, it will become apparent that we cannot just gape at an organ such as the penis and say “such and such is its main purpose, its ideal purpose, though it may have some other subsidiary or less-than-ideal purposes”. One may not be terribly adept at imagining what other purpose it may be evolving towards. Here are the examples: 1) the flagellum and injectisome of certain one-celled creatures; 2) the hippocampus structure in the brain switching between enabling acts of the imagination and future planning; and 3) — the most striking example of them all — the regulation of blood sugar and the storage and retrieval of memories in the hippocampus of the brain because the waves needed to deal with either are very similar.

After considering these examples, I will take yet one more datum from the brain sciences and construct a myth, a useful fiction aimed at rendering plausible the idea that what I will call “system A”, i.e., the brain to penis system for heterosexuals — those who accurately label themselves as 0 on the Kinsey scale — is one system, and what I will call “system B”, i.e., the system comprising the brain and penis (and whatever else) for homosexuals — those who accurately situate themselves as 6 on the Kinsey scale — is another, distinct system. The system is different because the “beginning” of the system is set up to respond to a different input — the male pheromone rather than the female. The output, however, is the same in both systems A and B — at the very least additional blood flow to the penis, and perhaps the ejection of a certain amount of goop.

The evolutionary “purpose” of system A is to reproduce and to produce enough of a bond with one’s partner that the likelihood one’s offspring will survive is enhanced. The evolutionary “purpose” of system B is to produce bonding that will encourage reciprocity of the sort that will increase the chances one will survive. Sometimes this bonding can be quite intense, going way beyond helping Mr. Channing Tatum fix his pickup truck, and extending to the ties that bound the members of the Sacred Band of Thebes together. When people possessing system B reproduce, as many of them will and to varying extents for reasons to be explored shortly, the genes responsible for that system get passed to the next generation.

My brain might take in the visual input ‘produce this report’, or it might take in the aural input expressing the same command. Nonetheless, the output is the same: the report. Blind person; deaf person; or a brain that is able to take in the message in either form. But two different systems — sometimes working concurrently.

Systems A and B, according to this useful (I hope) fiction are tacked together in one way for those who are mostly heterosexual (the 1’s) and in another way for those who are bisexual — the 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s. Although I do not expect to win any science prize for these ruminations anytime soon, they do constitute my attempt to absorb the science on this topic I have come across. As the science progresses, we will see how close I have come to getting things right.

The proteins at the base of the flagellum | stinger have the same function in both cases: enabling movement. There are other proteins that are common to both systems. But these proteins are part of two very different though very closely related evolution-wise systems.

The evolutionary relationship between the flagellum and the injectisome has been the subject of considerable debate. Flagella exist in both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, while injectisomes have so far only been found in Gram-negative species, suggesting a flagellar T3SS as ancestor [24,54]. However, early phylogenetic studies suggested that both systems share a common ancestor, and have since evolved differently from each other [55]. With the ever-growing number of genome sequences [56,57], it became clear that flagellar components are almost always encoded on the bacterial chromosome and co-evolved with the rest of the genome to a certain degree [58,59], while the genes coding for the injectisome are often encoded on virulence plasmids or pathogenicity islands, and are more closely related to each other than their flagellar counterparts. They are distributed independently of the phylogeny of the respective species, and have probably been frequently transferred between species [38,55,60]. Latest analyses suggest that the ancestral T3SS was used for locomotion and was similar to current-day flagella, while modern injectisomes were derived through a series of gene losses and subsequent acquisitions via a non-flagellar ancestor that did not translocate proteins, leading to a protein translocation machinery [38] (figure 2).

Just so, the penis is part of two very distinct systems, and it is would be silly to say that one is “more important” than the other or is ideal. If I don’t pee, I die. If no one engages in heterosexual sex, the species is doomed. Likewise at least two different social systems.

The best science we have so far shows that the brains of cisgendered heterosexual and homosexual people differ in structure aka “morphology” (what is what size and where); and, I assume, in wiring as well, assuming that “wiring” is not too vague as to be useless. They differe as well in ways that are peculiar to homosexual men and to homosexual women. Citation. Although the article just linked to does not mention the Kinsey scale, it is clear that in the case of exclusively homosexual men (Kinsey 6), the penis and the homosexual brain form integral parts of a system — call it system A — that orients one sexually | romantically towards men. One component of this system might be the hypothalamus:

Research conducted in Sweden[53] has suggested that gay and straight men respond differently to two odors that are believed to be involved in sexual arousal. The research showed that when both heterosexual women and gay men are exposed to a testosterone derivative found in men’s sweat, a region in the hypothalamus is activated. Heterosexual men, on the other hand, have a similar response to an estrogen-like compound found in women’s urine.[54] The conclusion is that sexual attraction, whether same-sex or opposite-sex oriented, operates similarly on a biological level.

Wikipedia,, last accessed 08/30/2021

Relating a myth or useful fiction: Not having read at the time of my writing this draft, the original paper, I do not know if for heterosexual men it is the same region in the hypothalamus that responds to the female pheromone, or a different region. Suppose it is the same region — it just responds to different stimuli than the (for the sake of argument) same region in women and in homosexual men. And suppose it is intelligible to talk about differing degrees in the strength of the response. As in “I felt the faintest twinge of attraction.”We might then imagine that region evolving, as our species became more prosocial so as to activate — but perhaps not responding with the same strength — upon the person’s exposure to the male pheromone. We might imagine this region in mostly straight men for example, responding to the male pheromone with 10 percent of the strength of the full-blooded response to the female pheromone. This (along with whatever else) would give us the [reports of the mostly straight]. Then we might imagine a certain number of men fortunate enough to draw the genetic and prenatal influences pebbles in the lottery that enable complete freedom from the worry of getting pregnant. For these men this region in the hypothalamus generates a full-blooded response to male pheromone. Same structure, two totally different functions. Just as we may imagine the hippocampus starting out by regulating blood sugar levels, but then evolving to help enable the storage and retrieval of memories, the two involving waves of the same character, apparently. But never evolving to just one or the other. Also basal motor proteins getting activated within two very different systems — flagellum and injectisome.

So two different systems: homosexual system A and heterosexual system B.

In the case of an exclusively heterosexual man, the penis and heterosexual brain form parts of a system — call it system B — that orients one sexually | romantically towards women. In both system A and system B, the penis oftentimes produces a goopy mess, but this no more means we can say it is “obvious” that the telos of this particular organ is to insert this goop into a woman’s vagina (system B) or into a man’s various and sundry orifices and surfaces. No more than we can say that the telos of the base proteins in the one-celled critters is directed towards stinging or towards movement.


Exclusively heterosexuals who heightened activation of system B. Mostly heterosexuals show the same heightened activation of system B — but also of system A. Exclusive homosexuals heightened activation of system A. Bisexuals. This is strong evidence of two different systems.

“Sex” is ambiguous, something I will return to later. I assume that by specific traits” of sex the Verbose Stoic means things like the penis and vagina. Of course, if we are listing specific organs and organ systems, we obviously need to include the brain and the entire nervous system. “Sex” could mean the physical act of inserting the penis into one hole or another and ejaculating, or attempting to ejaculate, or making moves that signal a desire to perform… Perhaps the most central meaning has as a necessary condition ‘making a certain kind of goopy mess”. Obviousness — see what is written on the physical organs. “Obvious” when looking at physical organs partes extra partes. Less obvious when we are talking about “sexuality” more than about “sex”. But prima facie yes, obvious no. Or it could include maybe one’s desires, what one feels drawn to, what one daydreams about, what one looks at. Yes, the brain is a sexual organ, but perhaps it might be more apt to call this “sexuality” as opposed to “sex”.

What is this business regarding “primary purpose”? If an organ is not the biological equivalent of a swiss army knife, it has only one purpose plus whatever purpose one can twist it into. Fallacy of the unused knife — the knife, after all, does not feel the “draw” towards the roast beef that the sunflower feels towards the sun.

Evolution is always adapting parts and repurposing them for different teloi. The appendix.

Conclusion: just as it makes no sense at all to take, for example, the proteins that form the basal motor of a flagellum and say “obviously the main purpose of this assembly of proteins is to move a flagellum. Look at how well all the parts fit together!” it makes no sense at all to say “obviously the main purpose of the penis is reproduction. Look at how well it fits with the vagina!” The basel motor powering the flagellum could always be repurposed to aid the functionality of an injectisome; and in fact evolution has repurposed it this way. The penis could always be repurposed to aid in the functionality of male bonding and other forms of prosociality (remember that this aid can be highly indirect, the additional blood flow to the penis contributing its part to the warm feeling that a mostly hetereosexual guy might feel towards another guy). — But also good to keep in ind that the botion of “purpose” is already highly problematic even apart from this. … Thomist seems completed to say that there has to be ONE main purpose at least.

The modal component to this.

Conceptual change. Tension the Thomist may feel someplace.

The “fit” or fitness can always be improved — flagellum from another prescurse, injectisome formed from genes taken from a DNA exchange.


This study shows that sexual orientation is reflected in brain structure characteristics.

But what if something analogous to what is going on with some one-celled creatures is going on here? Certain one-celled creatures contain a protein structure that aid in the function of a flagellum that lets the creature move around. Others have evolved from this so that this same apparatus, with whatever jury-rigging, now functions as a stinger that enables the critter to capture food. The protein structure now functions to help get food. Could something analogous be happening in the evolution of human beings? System A — extending from the lower parts of the brain to one’s private parts — have the telos of producing babies. System B — extending from the higher parts of the brain down to one’s private parts — have the telos of intensely bonding with the people one is attracted to. (Obviously, this is a drastic oversimplification of what is going on, made for the sake of clarity.) The same parts go into two different system with two different ends, just as the same protein structure in the one-celled creatures goes into a flagellum system and into a stinger system. If so, then Adam and Steve’s intentions align perfectly with one of the natural systems — intense bonding down in the bushes. The Natural Lawyers may please now stop leering into those bushes with the intention of handing down a Natural Law indictment to Adam and Steve.

Clifford Wirt, Natural Law Theory: The Definitive Refutation at, last accessed 08/28/2021

Pheromones in men’s sweat and women’s urine.

Same structure can hook up to different things for functionality that is, at least on some level of description, utterly different:

Buzsáki takes a similar view. “We have to look at brain mechanisms first, and why and how those things evolved,” he said. For instance, memories, future planning and imagination are all partly encoded by the same neural mechanisms, which makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because the same system can be recycled for different purposes. “You may be better off thinking about all of [those] as one,” he said.

This approach is already leading to some intriguing discoveries. For years, Buzsáki has studied sharp wave-ripples, a type of brain activity in the hippocampus that enables the storage and retrieval of memories. But this month in Nature, his former doctoral student David Tingley and others in Buzsáki’s lab revealed an entirely new function for them: helping to regulate blood sugar levels.

“We are linking two very different extremes,” Buzsáki said — a basic metabolic process and a high-level cognitive one. He’s now hoping to uncover a deeper connection between the two, and to obtain insights into how sharp wave-ripples for body regulation might have been repurposed for memory formation., last accessed 08/31/2021

That the same neural mechanisms that get reused for memories, imagination, and future planning may remind one of the basal proteins that are responsible for the motion of one creature’s flagellum and for another’s injectisome. The same proteins get reused by evolution for the very different functionality of two very different systems. In the case of the flagellum and the injectisome, transforming the one into the other takes a certain amount of evolutionary time. In the case of the neural mechanisms just mentioned, however, those mechanisms would seem to be always available for employment in each different functionality on the fly. It is as if a one-celled creature could use the basal proteins to motor a flagellum for a while, then used those same properties to motor an injectisome for a while. The neural mechanisms are interchangeable on demand for use by different systems. The mechanisms may have the same functionality when described very, very narrowly (the urethra carries liquid or liquid-like goop; the basal proteins turn; the penis spews out liquid or liquid-like goop). But the functionalities in which they are embedded are very very different. Memory, planning, imagination. It would be just silly to ask “what is the best, or ideal, or most important” use of these mechanisms? For memory? For planning? For imagination?”

[The Thomist wants an “and”. Reproduction and “unity”. Two or more purposes are okay, so long as they are united by this “and”. But why “and” and not “or”? We have to dig into the evolutionary history. The basal proteins are clearly an “or”. Say a less than totally adept flagellum then evolves into two distinct structures — a more adaptive one to particular circumstances, on the one hand, and into an injectisome on the other. Clearly we cannot say “look how finely adapted” — it is obvious that the purpose of the basal proteins is to motor an injectisome!” Looking into the evolutionary history we end up ruling out a bunch of “sole proper functions”. We end up in this case with a very narrowly-described “proper function” — to turn, to ejacualate gloop, to direct light onto the retina.

If I may steal a phrase from that Natural Law moron, homosexuality is a constant directedness towards ejaculating goop into another male (narrowly described) with more broadly-described social functionalities. ]

It makes precious little sense to ask “which of these two are the “ideal” or the “best” use of the hippocampus?’

So yes, pretty much the entire framework of Natural Law Theory is rotten through and through. To haul evolution in that theory is to breach the walls and haul in a Trojan horse.

The main point of all this interest in Natural Law Theory is, after all, is to provide support for the Right-Wing Christianists, Protestant or Catholic, to continue their more-than-1,000 year old scapegoating of LGBTQ+ people. Since Natural Law Theory is pretty much useless for this purpose once one brings evolution into the picture, there isn’t much point in keeping that strucutre around except for the puprose of historical preservatrion.

The real animus comes not from Natural Law, but from good-old-fashioned bigotry. John Holbo.



The purpose of a faculty, for Aquinas, is part of the rational plan by which God has ordered all creation. The Thomist will point to the highly fine-tuned way various faculties work together (for example, the way the artery system meshes so neatly with the venous system) as the result of this providential engineering. A faculty has a purpose because it was designed/engineered to have that purpose. The purpose of the heart, for example, is to pump blood, and should the surgeon place a patient’s heart on the table during an operation, one can see it “wanting” to pump blood. It is natural to think of it as having that as its “goal”, “end”, or “telos,” though obviously not as a conscious desire. And the Ultimate Engineer of the cosmos designed it to have this telos — that it should have this “end” is God’s intention. [Walking on hands. Contrary to the purpose. For this species, this is what the organ is for.]

This is what one sees when one puts on their Thomistic hat.

But what one sees when they put on their Daniel Dennett evolutionary hat is a bit different. To put on one’s Daniel Dennett evolutionary hat is to regard organs as if they had purposes relating them to one another, and as if some designer had engineered all these parts to work together. Nonetheless, it is neither the case that the organs can literally be said themselves to have purposes, nor that any designer had engineered the organs to satisfy a purpose, the way someone might might invent a toaster for the purpose of having their bread toasted. One adopts the “purpose stance” towards entities that have no such inherent purpose. But this ‘as if’ is something projected upon them from the outside. It is a fiction. One does so because this fiction renders various relationships between organs clearer.

The person illustrating an anatomy book might make the arterial/venous system one set of colors likely to be brighter and clearer than the actual color of arteries and veins, and the nerve paths another set of equally artificial colors in order to help one distinguish the two systems. Upon physically cutting open the body, the medical student may see just one big tangle; the illustration with its artificial coloring helps them distinguish one set of pathways from the other so that they may concentrate on just one system at a time (‘be careful when cutting here — one may hit a major artery Then be careful when cutting there — you may end up slicing an important nerve). But the distinctness provided by the colors and clear lines is an artifice, a fiction. This fiction makes it easier to see the relationship ‘distinctness’ between the arterial/venous system and the nervous system; and makes it easier to see the various path relationships between the arteries or veins and between the various nerves. It helps one see the various organs as distinct from one another, which aids the heart surgeon when they need to cut, for example, the heart from the various arteries, veins nerves to remove it from the body and replace it with a new heart.

Likewise, seeing the various organs as if they engineered by a designer to work together, each with its own and nerves task to accomplish, its purpose in the overall system, helps one to see the various relationships between the organs even though this designer is a complete fiction. [If one restricts themselves to just evolutionary theory, the complexity is too great. “Purpose” therefore becomes a useful fiction, just as are the cleanly-colored anatomical illustrations.] As Dennett puts it, there is a “design” without a designer. The various ‘in order to’ relationships were not engineered, but arose from evolution. Some of the systems work together in a highly fine-tuned way (heart, arteries and veins, nervous system); others are kludges thrown together haphazardly. The urethra, for example, passes through the middle of the prostate, causing distinct difficulties should the prostate ever enlarge. I am sure that PZ Myers can come up with plenty more examples of such kludges. These kludges provide evidence that no infinitely intelligent designer had engineered the body, making evolution the more likely explanation. [In order to get the ‘increased stiffness’ trait that results in increased resistence to malaria, Nature consigns (by lottery) a certain number of indivdiuals to suffer sickle cell anemia. Nature consigns them to this for the purpose of giving a larger number of individuals increased resistance to Malaria.] A useful way to see how the organs and system relate to one another. A useful fiction. The non-existent “designer”, like Italo Calvino’s “non-existent knight”.

Our non-existent designer had the bright idea of stiffening the red blood cells just a bit to make them resistant to Malaria in those regions where Malaria is a problem. This resistance is the “purpose” of the stiffening; it is what the stiffening is selected for. This is a brilliant “design”. The only problem is, first, some people die from this stiffening. When the stiffening becomes too great, people suffer terribly and die from sickel cell anemia. (This happens when one inherits two copies of a certain gene rather than just one. When one inherits just one copy, one gets the beneficial stiffening without the sickel cell anemia.) This prevents this trait from becoming spread universally (or almost universally) across the population as a whole. So, second, not all people living in these regions can get the benefit of this “design”.

[Since we are still thinking in terms of “purpose” and in terms of an ‘as if intentionality’, Nature kills a certain number of people in order to obtain the benefit — the increased reistance to Malaria — for a certain number of other people. lingering in the realm of “as if”, it is as the our non-existent knight, our non-existent designer, Evolution, Nature, arbitrarily chose — selected — a number of people to die so that certain selected others could get the benefit of the greater resistance to Malaria. Stiffening to a certain point gets selected for by Evolution — is an advantageous trait — but at the cost of those for whom too much stiffening occurs not reproducing and therefore not passing their genes along. ]

Hold onto that thought for a while. I will be returning to it.

Now One may be beginning to suspect that the Verbose Stoic is getting more than he bargained for when he tried to jam the evolutionary concept “purpose” in with the Thomistic concept of purpose. Even before this attempt, the Thomistic concept is ambiguous in the way Paul Feyerabend discusses when theorizing about the change in the Homeric concept ‘honor’ as kicked off by Achilles in the ILLIAD. The Homeric concept of honor did not distinguish between appearance and reality, between merely apparent honor and true honor. That difference may have been vaguely felt from some time, but it took Agamemnon’s taking what rightfully belonged to Achilles to provoke a rage in Achilles that let him see the difference, apparently — given how unintelligable he is to his interlocutors — for the first time. Recognizing the contradiction inherent in the Homeric concept paved the way for a new and different concept of honor, one that insists on (what we now take to be) the genuine article. (See Feyerabend and Bas van Fraasen’s review of that book.)

Likewise, the [sometimes Homer nods: was God nodding when he designed the prostate so that the urethra passes right through it?]and the Daniel Dennett evolutionary purpose may not be so easily jammed together. Instead of concentrating on particular organs and organ systems (with a vague awareness that these are shared by all non-defective members of the species), we are now talking about populations and factors that encourage | inhibit the spread of a trait across populations. Chance. No longer an all-wise engineer. [F Whatever ambiguities and contradictions may lurk within the Thomistic concept, trying to kludge it together with the evolutionary concept seems likely to introduce just such. A Trojan horse. Nonetheless, the Verbose Stoic does not seem excessively adverse to hauling this potential Trojan horse inside the walls of Thomistic Natural Law Theory. “…it [reproduction] also is what evolution selected it [sex] and its specific traits for.” In other words, that evolution has selected x and its specific traits for y tells us that the purpose of x is y.

Now it has been apparent for a while from twin studies and other studies that Same Sex Attraction has a strong genetic component — about one third. No single gene determines that one will be gay, but a number of genes working together under whatever conditions make it more likely that one will be so. Given that these genes would tend to inhibit reproduction, they surely have a very strong selective advantage that overwhelms that tendency. Getting strongly selected for, they get passed from generation to generation, with the result that there are always gay people around. So Same Sex Sexual Attraction is a product of evolution, just as is Opposite Sex Attraction.

By the Verbose Skeptic’s logic, if a phenomenon has been selected by evolution, it has been selected for something, and that something is its purpose. The physical activity of sex and its various “traits”, including the traits of various sex organs, exists because it has the well-known side effect of reproduction, thus ensuring that (in the absence of any alternative method of reproduction) any species that has no members engaging in this activity is not long for this world. Given that reproduction is what sex is selected for by evolution, sex is for reproduction. Reproduction is the “purpose” of sex. Sex with its natural “purpose” of reproduction is the home key, so to speak of natural “purpose”. (This “purpose” of course

Of course, every trait that is selected for by evolution will have reproduction as its ultimate “purpose”; these other traits will bear some “in order to” relationship to that ultimate purpose. A moth, for example, might end up with a dark coloration in environments darkened by layers of coal soot on everything and by limiting illumination. Evolution selects this darker coloration for its camouflage effect which it “uses” in order to limit successful predation which in turn results in a greater likelihood of reproducing. Adopting the “purpose” stance, it is as if nature made the moths with the darker color in order to render camouflage possible, and the camouflage is there in order to render survival more likely, and nature does that in order to render reproduction more likely. A succession of in order to relationships leading up to an ultimate “purpose”.

Our best science tells us that Same Sex Attraction has been selected for by evolution. It therefore has as its ultimate “purpose” reproduction, which is accomplished by some mediating “in order to” relationships. You, dear Reader, doubtlessly sense where I am going with this. The Verbose Stoic also sensed this goal, and tried to stop this line of reasoning in its tracks by putting on his amateur geneticist hat and attempting to claim that Same Sex Attraction is nt in fact selected for. Like blue eyes (maybe), it is a trait that exists because of randomly-occurring mutations, but has no selective advantage.

Actually, just because something has a genetic component and exists in nature doesn’t mean that evolution selected for it, especially if that thing is relatively rare compared to the other traits that it is replacing. For example, blue eyes are relatively rare — you need to have two recessive genes as far as I can recall — but there is no selection benefit to having blue eyes (or a specific eye colour at all). Nearsightedness is also relatively rare and also genetic, but surely evolution did not select for it as it seems to only have a detrimental impact on people. So that there is a genetic pattern that can produce or make homosexuality more likely doesn’t mean that it was selected for by evolution. It could simply be a neutral by-product like blue eyes or even a detrimental one like nearsightedness. This, them would make your analysis of what benefit it might have pointless, since we’d need to establish that it even has one in the first place.

The Verbose Stoic, at, last accessed 08/04/2021

This objection is … er … amazing, and I have to admit that I was stunned when I came across it. Frankly, I am embarrassed. The following conundrum has been a live topic of debate for only the past 50 years or so:

Human same-sex sexual attraction (SSSA) has long been considered to be an evolutionary puzzle. The trait is clearly biological: it is widespread and has a strong additive genetic basis, but how SSSA has evolved remains a subject of debate. Of itself, homosexual sexual behavior will not yield offspring, and consequently individuals expressing strong SSSA that are mostly or exclusively homosexual are presumed to have lower fitness and reproductive success. How then did the trait evolve, and how is it maintained in populations? 

Prosociality and a Sociosexual Hypothesis for the Evolution of Same-Sex Attraction in Humans, at, last accessed 08/14/2021

In spite of his confident, even mansplaining tone, the Verbose Stoic is, apparently, unaware of the vast literature on the selective advantage of Same Sex Sexual Attraction (SSSA), some of which is cited here. No, SSSA is not due to random mutations such as those that (perhaps) account for traits such as blue eyes; if it were, it would have become incredibly rare eons ago. The funny thing about those perhaps too-closely associated with Natural Law Theory is that they seem to actually know precious little about nature.

This is not a good look for those trying to defend (whether they actually hold that theory or not) Natural Law Theory.

One possible analogy to SSA is with the gene for Sickle Cell Anemia. Get one copy of the gene for Sickle Cell Anemia, and you have some degree of immunity against malaria. If I am not mistaken, the immunity comes from a certain amount of stiffening of the red blood cells. But get two copies of the gene, you get Sickle Cell Anemia because the red blood cells get too stiff. You are less likely to reproduce. The selective advantage conferred upon those with just one copy of the gene outweighs the selective disadvantage of those who are unfortunate enough to receive both copies.

Now as for that other guy … I forget his nom de plume … Marx something or other … who comments frequently at the Verbose Stoic’s blog … the point he was apparently trying to make was that we should not regard evolution as selecting for SSSA but for something that is a “by-product” of SSSA, namely, for prosocial behavior (less reactive aggression and so on). Therefore we should not regard nature as having any “intention” for SSSA.

One example that would tend to make Marx What-His-Names’s case is the following. Suppose a byproduct of having blue eyes was some other trait that increased the survival of people with blue eyes (say, some ray causes people to go up to the emitter and say: “please — I want to have your baby”; and whatever process resulted in the ability to emit this ray also caused one to have blue eyes), the ray would carry with it a selective advantage but the blue eyes per se would not. This would be so even though the occurrence of blue eyes would be greater than what could be accounted for by purely random mutations.

The production of the ray-generating capability sets off a causal chain that produces the blue eyes. And of course the blue eyes per se then become selected for as a sign of greater fitness.

The ray-generating capability and the blue eyes both have the same cause.

The habitues of the Verbose Stoic’s blog frequently talk as if it were ‘just obvious’ that SSSA could not possibly have any selective advantage. But this is not all obvious. The “gay genes” mentioned above work by making the fetus less responsive to whatever masculinizing influences exist in the womb. These influences can be sometimes more potent, sometimes less potent, affecting even identical twins differently. Hence the genetic component for SSSA is only about one third. Because of this lesser degree of responsiveness, the fetus’ brain retains, to one measure or another, its default female character. Its brain may retain enough of the default character that the child the fetus grows into may identify as female; masculinized a bit more, that child may identify as male but be sexually attracted to other men. This SSSA may in turn come in degrees. Some men of course have a very strong, and exclusive attraction to other men. In others the attraction might not be exclusive, and the person is bisexual, attracted to men and to women in varying degrees and proportions of strength. Possibly the SSSA is weak enough that it is nothing but a droning sound in the background, completely overwhelmed by Opposite Sex Sexual Attraction (OSSA). This would accord with the common wisdom (on target or not) that almost every man is bisexual to some degree. And maybe some men have absolutely no trace of SSSA. If so, I would expect them to be completely neutral sexually with respect to other men — neither attraction nor repulsion.

The unknown but I suspect very large percentage of the male population that is “not totally straight” but nonetheless rarely or never act upon whatever degree of SSSA they possess (assuming this is not just a degree of apart from SSSA, but as I am about to show the two are not so easily disentangled.)

According to the theorists linked to above, the brain of a male that remains partly in its default female state has a selective advantage by reducing reactive aggression and generally encouraging more pro-social ways of behaving. [Empirical matter. Doesn’t mean women or men should be placed in a straight-jacket.] Now of course it is possible to distinguish conceptually between SSSA per se and pro-social behavior per se. As just noted, a man might display predominately or solely OSSA and still be “effeminate”, though if I am not mistaken the majority of “effeminate” men are gay. It is at least initially plausible to think that SSSA plays the role of the blue eyes described above and the pro-sociality plays the role of the trait with the actual selective advantage, the SSSA just hopping along for the ride. Therefore not something with a “purpose”.

There are then at least two ways in which SSSA plausibly makes for greater fitness in particular environments: 1) social lubricant and draw for male bonding; 2) entry into socially dominant groups. Assuming that all those who are not “totally straight” possess some degree of SSSA, they will be doing a great deal of the work for both 1) and 2) and will be passing their genes along. Some of their not being totally straight may involve being happy to help Channing Tatum fix his pickup truck even if the SSSA never gets beyond a dimly-felt warm camaraderie. And those being initiated the dominant group via rituals with a homoerotic component be less likely to flee, should they have one degree of another of SSSA, because the ordeal will be less of an ordeal.

Again (this seems to be an easy point to forget) this trait is more likely to be passed onto future generations by those who are not exclusively SSSA. How all of this works is of course an empirical matter. As I have said before, what I am offering is just a story that seems overwhelmingly plausible to me. As time goes on, empirical work will confirm or refute various proportions of this story ranging from 0 to 100%. Nonetheless, this story clearly suffices, I submit, to remove the false front of obviousness from the notion that SSSA, even as linked to prosocial behavior, could not possibly have a selective advantage.

The false obviousness of the notion that SSSA could not possibly be selected for fixates on those who are exclusively SSSA. It is as if one claimed that the gene for Sickle-Cell Anemia could not possibly have a selective advantage because, after all, those who are exclusively sickle-celled (the stiffening effect of the gene not being diluted by another gene in the pair). Sigh.

Back to the tangle. To go back to the blue-eyes example, we can think of the blue eyes as increasing the conceptually and physically distinct factor X by serving as a signal to possible mates of increased fitness. Just as separating out the nervous system from the arterial/venous system is to perform an act of abstraction on systems that are, I assume, entangled with the one another, separating out Factor X from the blue eyes is perform a similar act of abstraction in spite of the conceptual and even physical distinction of the two. Likewise, separating out the greater prosociality of the brain that remains partly to one degree or another in its default feminine state from the SSSA that stems from it is to perform a violent act of abstraction. These two traits are entangled, the SSSA increasing the prosociality in both its “feminine” and “masculine” forms; the prosociality enhancing the chances the SSSA will bear some fruit, either in terms of pair bonding, or in just the joy of being with Channing Tatum as he fixes his pickup truck. [Be sure to mention that I am assuming evolution proceeds via selective advantage for the individual, not for the group. My helping Channing Tatum makes him more likely to assist in my survival.]

SSSA then forms one aspect of prosociality, working to help create homosocial bonds and drawing one into a group whose chances of success would surely be increased by a lesser degree of reactive aggression, a greater tendency to cooperate, and whatever other aspects can be ascribed to a partly feminine brain.It is one aspect of how prosociality works. It is part of a complex of features making up the partially feminine brain. It is therefore not apropos to separate it out from prosociality. It is selected for when prosociality is selected for just as the lense of the eye is selected for given that the eye is selected for. Other side of the coin: opening the door to admittance to the dominant group, or to a group that is facing rigors from the outside (show us that you deserve to belong by going through this ordeal ).

Given that the Verbose Stoic thinks that the purpose of a thing is determined by what evolution has selected it for, the purpose of SSSA, as part of the complex of factors that make up the male brain that remains to one degree or another in its default female state, is to help remove factors that risk tearing the group apart ( reduce reactive aggression, male and female sociality), to increase cooperation with one’s fellow males (helping Channing Tatum fix his pickup truck, male sociality), make it easier to buy a ticket into a group that faces challenges from the outside (military hazing, male sociality) or that will have greater access to a society’s resources. All of these increase the chances one will survive and pass his genes along (to take just one example, reducing one’s aggression towards others decreases the chance someone will retaliate and do one in. The others I leave as an exercise for the reader.) Two strands entwined: 1) attraction, being drawn to others; 2) refraining from aggression.

Purpose. Change. Path dependence. Natural kludges. Whatever ambiguity may have existed in the Thomistic concept ‘purpose’, pulling the Trojan horse “purpose” inside the conceptual walls definitely introduces conflicting elements. Natural Law partes extra partes and stultifying, reduces the dimensions of human thriving.

[nature would be selecting for blue eyes in order to get that other, more directly advantageous trait. And if we adopt Dennett’s “intentional stance” [this is where Pretty Girl sat on my keyboard] zssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssbgfvvtowards evolution (that is, it may be useful to think of evolution AS IF it implied purpose, even if this is not literally true), this would mean that having blue eyes has a natural “purpose”. Its purpose would be to get the other more directly advantageous traits. ]

[Suppose that the efficacy of the more directly-advantageous trait increased in accordance with the saturation and depth of color of the blue … until the advantageous trait ceased becoming advantageous at the point when the blue becomes, say, the deepest ultramarine blue.]

I[n fact, what is getting selected for is a brain that is “incompletely” masculinized, i.e., that partially remains in its default feminine state. ]

[But Marx-what-his-name’s objection is beside the point anyway, since SSSA does have a directly advantageous trait — its strengthening same-sex bonds, especially among elites. The countless fraternity videos out there on the web showing the hazing/initiation of pledges attest to the frequency of same-sex sexual behavior in college fraternities. And I have known people who have been members of a fraternity who describe experiences like these. College fraternities exist, of course, to strengthen post-college bonds between people who will occupy positions in power in the society at large (corporate executives and so on). So any place on the SSSA spectrum that would make it easier to engage in same-sex sexual behavior would have a selective advantage. If those people are on the spectrum at a place where they are also attracted to the opposite sex, their more powerful place in society at large would increase their reproductive success. In this way, SSSA has an evolutionary “purpose”.]

The Sacred Band of Thebes provides another example.

I therefore dismiss Marx-whats-his-name’s objection.

[The Thomist sees as “faculties” as having just such a with an inherent in those faculties. The heart’s “wanting” to beat is intrinsic to the heart. (At least for now I will leave “inherent” and “intrinsic” undefined and perhaps no really clear definition is possible.) But in adopting the “purpose stance’ one is projecting purpose onto the entity from outside it in order to render certain relationships clearer. Just as the illustration of an anatomy book may make the artery and vein system one color, and the nervous system another color in order to make the various pathways clearer, the biologist might very well play a fame of “as if” and regard the heart as if it had been designed by some engineer to have the purpose of pumping blood. This “as if” purpose is “painted onto” the heart just as the anatomist “paints onto” the nervous and arteries different colors in order to make them stand out from a whole of which they are indissolubly a part. But the painting purpose onto a distinguishable entity (the heart singled out in the imagination, the surgeon’s lines cutting it off from the rest of the body in his mind’s eye where he intends to cut in real life. This “as if” serves to unite again what had been disassembled. Both are conceptual artifices.]

What is perceptually a tangled whole is in real life a whole, the distinguishing of whose parts is an artifice. So when asking ‘what is the “purpose” of X‘, we have to be careful not to perform an abstractive violence and separate it out into its different factors, each with its own “purpose”. The brain of a person of the XY persuasion that is incompletely masculinized has (according to the theory linked to above) at least two factors: the prosociality factor and the SSSA factor. These two factors, as I hope I have shown, are intertwined to form a single composite thread even though they are conceptually distinguishable. We should not be asking what is the “purpose” of each of the threads this composite comprises. We should be asking: “what is the purpose of this composite thread — prosociality and SSSA together?”

From the above, it should be clear that the ultimate “purpose” of this composite thread is to help the people with these genes survive long enough to reproduce and pass their genes along. This ultimate “purpose” is of course the same as that for any other trait that gets selected for. In the case of SSSA/prosociality, this ultimate “purpose” is served by creating situations in which members of the group reciprocate for various factors (greater helpfulness, teamwork, greater emphasis on connection as opposed to hierarchy and its struggles, being amusing to be around, greater agreeableness, respectful, being sweet, total commitment to the team because belonging to it had such a cost, absence of reactive aggression, male bonding of the ‘we are the 300’ and ‘we band of brothers’ sort, and God only knows what else. These situations comprise an “in order to” along the way of the ultimate “goal” of reproduction: one’s drive to help Channing Tatum fix his pickup truck occurs in order to encourage Channing Tatum to reciprocate, which in turn makes one’s survival and therefor one’s reproducing more likely.

It is therefore for something; and that you take what evolution has selected a phenomenon for as evidence for its “purpose”, you would have to admit that homosexuality has a “purpose”– or, more precisely, one ultimate “purpose” (reproduction) and a number of “sub-purposes” which get fulfilled in order to fulfill the ultimate “purpose.” It is just that SSA intertwined with prosociality and with whatever factors in the default feminine brain takes more of a scenic route towards the fulfillment of that purpose (towards that goal) than does OSSA intertwined with whatever other factors in the definitely non-default masculine brain.

SSSA then, especially in conjunction with the default female brain, has a “purpose”. But notice where this has left us. We are far, far away from the crude Thomistic notion that regards the organs partes extra partes and asks ‘what was this specific organ designed for’? (The penis is designed to ejeculate semen into a vagina for the sake of reproduction, whether reproduction actually occurs or not.)

All at once concept of purpose versus the incremental steps of evolutionary “purpose”. The two do not fit together very well. We end up having to claim that the urethra was passed through the middle of the prostate … to what purpose? Well, why did the chicken cross the road?

It’s called initiative.

Let me end by rewinding the tape (yes, I know, this dates me) to the beginning, then fast-forwarding. The Verbose Stoic brings in evolution in order to bolster his claim that it is “obvious” that reproduction is what sex is (mainly, ideally) for. Just looking at how neatly the parts fit together gives one the deep impression of a master craftsman or engineer who, it is readily apparent, had reproduction in mind when designing these organs — though of course even the Thomist, perhaps, need not bring in an intelligent entity who is directly doing the designing. [The brain is a sex organ — even the sex organ.] The Verbose Stoic brings in evolution to try to bolster this claim. First problem: Unexpected results. His doing so, however, radically undercuts that claim, if not Thomism generally. Implicit in the claim that what a thing is selected for by evolution suffices to show that this is the thing’s purpose. No place for intelligent design here. Of course, this means that the purpose of everything is, in the end and at least indirectly, reproduction, including homosexuality, which, it turns out, is strongly selected for. In fact, one has to remind oneself of the obvious selective disadvantages of homosexuality in order to cease wondering why, given how powerful the selective advantages are, homosexuality to one degree or another is not universal. Second Problem: in the context of evolution “purpose” is very much an as if affair, always to be placed between scare quotes. We cannot literally speak of a purpose — purpose is an abstraction. Something we should keep in mind when making claims about the “main” or the “ideal Purpose.” We can nonetheless go ahead and inquire into the “purpose” of homosexuality. The “purpose” is increase prosociality in general and bonding in particular; decreased aggression. These piggy-back on the draw — SSSA. Given the fact that our organs and systems are in constant flux, makes no sense to say this or that is the “main purpose” — especially given the problematic character of this entire notion of “purpose” in the context of evolution. Homosexuality defined in a more encompassing way. Most encompassing: everything that renders one vulnerable to being called “fag”. Most narrow: system B. What is absolutely clear is that there is nothing “obvious” about the main purpose of … what … “sex”…”genitalia”? Finally, Feyerabend’s ambiguous concepts.

I therefore dismiss the passage from the Verbal Stoic’s blog quoted above.


Two points to end with: Not, this is not obvious at all. And bringing in evolution ends up showing a) that SSSA and activity have an evolutionary “purpose”, and that the idea of an ideal purpose is incoherent, as is the idea of a main purpose”. There is the purely material purpose of the basal proteins. But is there “main purpose” to power a flagellum or an injectisome? The purely material purpose of the penis is to splash out either urine or goop. But is the “main purpose” to reproduce or to bond with other men? Contra that priest, this is not written on one’s organ, available for inspection. I therefore dismiss the Verbose Skeptic’s blurb above.


Let’s say that a freak accident occurs, and a cannon ball is shot from a Civil War monument through the wall of a clubhouse used by some children. Luckily, no one is hurt. In fact, the accident is highly advantageous for the boy who happens to be inside. As if taking a cue from my first or second grade reader which had included a story about a boy who was painting the floor of a clubhouse red and had painted himself into a corner, the boy who happened to be inside had likewise painted himself into a corner. The serendiptious cannonball opened a hole in the wall in such a way as to allow the boy to exit the clubhouse.

The original story, if I remember correctly (which I probably do not), had a saw placed in the corner which the boy used to saw a hole in the wall. Intelligent agent making things happen. Then later making other things happen. But for now I will be sticking with just accident.

Suppose now that the children decide they really wanted an alternative to the main entrance as a means of entering and leaving the clubhouse. They use the hole in the wall for that purpose again and again. What is more, they make changes to the perimeter of the hole to make entering and leaving easier, for example, by eliminating potential snags. The hole is getting adapted to a purpose. Two factors make ingress/egress the proper function of the hole: repeated use, and changes that render the hole more serviceable for its adopted purpose. These factors are absent when, say, a painter incorporates an image of the hole into a composition. This is not a regularly repeated use of the hole, and the painter is not adapting the hole itself to better suit their purposes. That its shape be exploited by the painter is not a proper function of the hole.

Intention itself to be explained in terms of proper function. Make more evolution like. Repeated use at different times. Repeated use at different spatial locations and times. Worked on and reuse not by an intentional agent, but by evolutionary pressures.

A history with these factors is constituitive of a purpose, telos, or function. They establish that there is a proper function, and determine what this proper function is. Going in a direction. Possibility of failure.

Mechanisms regularly getting reused on the fly as a matter of course. Incorporation into different systems with different functions.

Proper function getting articulated not in terms of a designer’s one-time decisions, but in terms of continual change going in a direction (current environment) and always possibly changing direction as the environment changes. The history determines that there is a proper function, and it determines what that proper function is.

Maybe there is a possible world in which there could be a designer doing everything as a one-off, but that is not the actual known world in which things are used and reused and reused again.


An entity E’s having something F as a purpose requires that it can — in some sense of “can” — fail to achieve F. If, armed with a dart, I aim at the bullseye on the target, my purpose (E = me) in throwing the dart is to hit the bullseye (F = hitting the bullseye). Aiming at F is intrinsically futural. The future is never guaranteed. Even if I had a miniature angel guiding my dart so that, out of the 100 tries I have made so far, he has put the dart back on course towards hitting its target, the angel might waver or tire on the 101th try. Even were I to put together the incredibly complicated chain of causally deterministic events starting from the big bang and leading to my being here, in the pool hall, about to throw the dart; and even if I could assert from the evidence of this chain that my dart is guaranteed to hit the bullseye…well, I don’t know all the laws of physics, do I?

But if one analyzes purpose according to the role that an entity plays in a system (the heart in the body, clouds in the water/cloud/soil system), even entities that cannot ‘miss their target’ end up counting as having a purpose. From the viewpoint of the farmer, the clouds may “fail” to bring rain, but I doubt that even the Aristotelian themselves would attribute ‘bringing rain’ as a telos of the clouds. An Aristotelian stone may possess a “drive” to its telos, the ground, but the cloud is not possessed of a drive to shed tears onto the ground. But the cloud’s shedding rain is the role it plays in the water/cloud/soil cycle. Therefore were something’s having a role in a system sufficient to count that entity as having a purpose within that system, the cloud would have as its function, its purpose, bringing rain to the soil. But since the cloud is not trying to send rain to the ground, it cannot be accused of ever failing to hit this target, achieve this goal, accomplishing this purpose. Sending rain, therefore, cannot be regarded as a purpose of the cloud. The cloud is not “for” sending rain, no matter what the farmer may think.

But at least intuitively (at least for many of us), the heart does have a purpose within the system of the body. What does it have that the cloud does not? Taken as a type, ‘the heart’ does possess a “direction”, as part of a whole comprising ‘the body’ (again, taken as a type) of a member of a given species that has a heart. Through Natural Selection, that body (type) is constantly adjusting to its current environment (which is surely in a constant flux) and to any change in that environment sufficiently large to require an adjustment to the body of the organism. To take one example, the body of members of the species homo sapiens shows the effects of evolutionary pressures inclining towards self-domestication which show up in the form of smaller brain sizes. Any such change in one organ as a response to selection pressure always has the chance of resulting in changes in other organs to accommodate it. Even staying the same is a kind of movement.

This constant movement towards adjusting to the current environment is a movement against entropy occurring in a limited system. It is a movement of an order that is constantly both preserving itself and changing by proliferating copies of itself, somehow keeping abreast of randomness bereft of order and direction. Like a game of Yahtzee, this is a movement that, tiny increment by increment, results in an order that would be vastly unlikely if accomplished in one fell swoop. Any given heart, considered as an instantiation of a type, possesses this direction, precisely what the cloud in the cloud/water/soil system lacks. The heart as type lends the particular heart as function a morphology, a form which lets it function inside the system that the organism as a whole comprises. Succumbing to the forces of entropy is a constant threat to this form, and therefore to this function. Failure is always an option. This possibility of failure, along with the direction that makes it possible, makes the beating heart similar to the dart that is being thrown towards the target, except here we have to think of the dart as achieving its telos from moment to moment. Just as the heart achieves its telos moment to moment as long as it beats in a satisfactory manner. The purpose of the heart in this system is to pump blood in a certain way (for example, in such a way as to leave the circulatory system sufficiently unscathed for a period long enough to let the organism reproduce.) Type, blueprint.

With the potential for failure the heart becomes like the person throwing the dart. Just remove the intentionality, which we can do for the dart-thrower if we regard them as sleepwalking. Neither the heart nor the sleepwalking dart thrower has conscious intentionality, the heart does not have unconscious intentionality (I assume), and if the Radical Enactivists are correct, neither does the sleepwalking dart-thrower.

Instrument: my purpose, or the designer’s purpose. The dart has a purpose in just a derivative sense. The heart as type has the selectivity and direction and the heart as token has the constant potential for failure. But not the intentionality. There is this similarity between purpose function telos of the heart

The penis, the basal proteins, each have a focussed primary function. This function can operate within different systems, each of which can have a different primary function. This proves completely devastating to the Natural Law theorist.

Purpose requires the possibililty of failure.

The cloud does not have the purpose of bringing rain to the soil, even thought that is its function (system) in the system comprising the cloud rain soil cycle.

What more is needed? Take a look at the sleepwalking dart thrower. Their throwing the dart is purposeful even though conscious intentionality certainly, and perhaps even unconscious intentionality, is lacking. It is purposeful because throwiung the dart has a direction and the possibility of failure.

It is natural to say that the function as purpose of the heart is to pump blood. We say this even thought the heart does not have representations, conscious or unconscious. Why is this so natural? Because the heart shows a direction — it is constantly adjusting its beating to new conditions. Mechanical hearts quickly cause damage precisely because they cannot do this. And the heart can always fail. This is what makes it natural, I submit, to say that the heart has a purpose within the system comprising the body and its organs. One will not be willing to say that the heart has a purpose if one supposes that a representation is required for purpose — the example of the sleepwalking dart thrower at least opens the possibility that no such representation is needed. Also, one may try to go full-naturalistic and explain the kind of purpose that requires representation as a special case of purpose in general.

The direction of the heart as type as moving in the direction dictated by natural selection. Heart as token also moving this way simply by working so enabling reproduction.

What would count, from the vantage point of the cloud/water/soil system, as a failure on the part of the cloud? THis is not at all clear. But there is a definite, clear criterion for what would count as a failure of the heart in its function to pump blood: the death of the organism before it can reproduce. Failure to have the organism’s genes proliferate. This brings in the notion of a norm. Failure here is failure to do what the heart should do, what it needs to do, in order to keep the organism alive and (potentially) reproducing. (I won’t go here into whether this violates Hume’s ‘can’t infer an ought from an is.) This is a should from within the system. The farmer may think the cloud should produce rain, needs to produce rain, to keep them healthy and happy. But the cloud’s not producing rain does not result in the demise of the c/w/s system. There is no should internal to that system. But there is a ‘needs to’, a ‘should’ internal to the system which the organism comprises. The failure of the heart to keep pumping will result in the demise of that system and its failure to propagate. Its function and purpose within that system is to keep it going.

Function as role played by an entity within a system. But there is no way, within the system, to determine what would count as a failure to play that role. The farmer may think the cloud failed in its function to send rain to the soil, but the farmer is outside that system. Without something that would determine what would count as failure (or not-as-good performance), there are no norms.

With natural selection, we get a clear, definite criterion for what is to count as a failure. With that, we get norms. The heart fails in its function to pump blood when its action causes the organism whose heart it is to die before it can pass its genes along. The heart can be fully functional according to this criterion, or just barely serviceable, or diseased, or malfunctioning, mis-shaped for what it is supposed to do, or even not functioning at all (the end). With the norm, we can start talking about what the heart is supposed to do and what it is not supposed to do (fibrillate, and so on). What a good heart does.

At this point, it is very easy to start talking about the purpose of the heart within the system of the body. What might stop one from doing this is the idea that purpose requires intentionality, representations inside the head. But why would one think this? Something fulfills | fails to fulfill one purpose when it matches | fails to match the representation of what one is aiming at. But why should representation be the only way to apply a standard?


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