Letters to the Editor

13
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Cherie Hohertz
Is the Head of the Access Services to the William A. Blakley Library.

I would like to respond to issues brought forth in the recent article, “In Perspective:  Student Views of the Blakley Library.”

The “obnoxious numbers and letters” that are affixed to volumes are call numbers in the Library of Congress classification system.  This system is standard throughout academic libraries, including the Southern Methodist University library to which Ms. Bowen refers.  A detailed guide to the LC system can be found at http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/.

The lighting in the periodicals section is problematic.  Several years ago, the library purchased additional table lamps to enhance the lighting.  Due to electrical issues, the facilities department was unable to install the lamps.

The larger issue is the dissatisfaction with our collections.  With the exception of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the library has not had a monograph budget in more than 10 years.  The only budget the library receives is spent on journal subscriptions and electronic databases.  We are thus unable to keep up with academic publishing that would benefit our collection.

This should not detract from the value of our current collection. We have one of the largest collections on Catholic theology and liturgy in the United States.  Our philosophy collection also attracts prominent scholars.  We have access to over 115 databases ­(more than many larger universities), over 84,000 electronic books and thousands of journals through full-text databases.  We also offer an interlibrary loan service, allowing patrons to order materials from libraries not included in our collection.  With our limited resources, we have built a collection that meets the needs of academic departments across the curriculum.

We are currently involved in a library satisfaction survey administered by the American Library Association.  There is a link on the library’s homepage.  I urge you to let us know your thoughts and concerns so we can improve our offerings to the University of Dallas community.
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Sylvia Whiteacre
is the Administrative Assistant to the department of Education at the University of Dallas.

I would like to shed some light on the matter of the Blakley Library.

Yes, my sensibilities lie favorably towards the library, because I worked there for four years during my undergraduate years and am currently studying for my Master’s in Library Sciences. It is not easy to anticipate each and every research topic of approximately 3,000 students each and every year. This is especially true when the budget for the library grows smaller each year. It is not easy to help a student who needs a book for a paper now, when that book has been checked out by a student earlier.

The library has signs labeling each floor – have you seen the one by the elevator? It even says which floors have which gendered restrooms. Have you seen the bookmarks that explain the system of labeling (modeled after the Library of Congress’)? Having had to study this system, I acknowledge that it is a complicated system of letters and numbers, but librarians and even student workers will help you understand it, or, if nothing else, how to use the online catalog to research, which will give you call numbers. Once you have a call number, all you need to do is to know your alphabet and your numbers, and you can find the book.

Research is not easy, and in this day and age of instant gratification, we do not like to “waste” time looking for things that we feel should be as accessible as Google and Wikipedia. A library is not Google or Wikipedia. It can be so much more, if you are willing to take the time to ask a question or spend time looking through books in the admittedly arctic climate. (Cold is better for books. I recommend fuzzy socks and a blanket if you plan to be there for long.)
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Sherif Girgis
is a PhD student at Princeton and a law student at Yale Law School. He delivered a paper at the University of Dallas on Oct. 10 titled “The Case Against Same-Sex Civil Marriage.”

In a talk at Dallas, I argued that what distinguishes marriage from other bonds also makes it possible for an infertile couple – but not for two men or two women – to marry. Neither Peter Antich’s objection to this nor his counterproposal succeeds.

Marriage comprehensively unites persons. But persons are embodied, so marriage includes bodily union. Two organs unite by coordinating for a biological end (survival) of the whole they compose together (an organism); likewise, two people unite bodily by coordinating for a biological end (reproduction) of the whole they compose as a couple. Only in the generative act do two people thus become “one flesh” to seal a marriage. More precisely, only in coitus do (a) two people realize an (b) intrinsic part of an (c) inherently coordinated bodily process – or thus unite bodily, or thus maritally.

Mr. Antich objects that the “generative act” category is gerrymandered. It either includes too much (e.g., solitary acts, or acts between a man and a mere organ) or excludes too much (e.g., coitus involving a partner missing gonads).

But an individual’s climax alone is too thin an episode to count as coordination, much less of two people. Male-female coitus, by contrast, inherently involves two. And it remains an intrinsic stage of the coordinated process of reproduction when external or accidental conditions (like the absence of an internal organ) keep the process from reaching completion. But two men’s acts form no stage of the process of bodily coordination toward reproduction, or anything else; they are not bodily unions, or thus marital acts.

It is Mr. Antich’s view that proves too much. If, as he says, cooperation toward any goal creates the bodily union needed for marriage, then marriage needn’t be between two, or even be sexual, or therefore involve permanent commitment or even cohabitation. His revisionism, like others’, would collapse marriage into ordinary friendship. And that, all along, has been my point.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I have been objecting to Sherif Girgis’ argument against same-sex civil marriage. I will continue to do so in light of his unconvincing letter to the editor. Indeed, my objection continues along just the same lines it always has, namely calling foul play on Girgis’ use of the “generative act” category.
    In my article I suggested that given his definition of “generative act”, Mr. Girgis would have to exclude infertile male-female intercourse in which the couple was infertile due to the absence of some minor reproductive organ (which was nevertheless necessary for conception to occur) from the generative category, rendering it unmarriageable. Since all good, sound common sense dissuades us from this conclusion, we might suspect that there is something fishy about Mr. Girgis’ definition of “generative act”. He responded: “Male-female coitus … remains an intrinsic stage of the coordinated process of reproduction when external or accidental conditions (like the absence of an internal organ) keep the process from reaching completion.”
    Mr. Girgis likes to compare marriage to baseball – let me bandwagon on that comparison, though altering it slightly. In the case of the infertile couple, what occurs on the ball field largely resembles a baseball game. There are two teams, arrayed appropriately, with all the usual paraphernalia. Except one thing is missing – say the baseball. What occurs on the field, in Mr. Girgis’ words, remains an intrinsic stage of the coordinated process of baseball when external or accidental conditions (like the absence of the baseball) keep the process from reaching completion. Granted, everything on the pitch is part of the game of baseball, played as it always has been. But something is missing which prevents the game from reaching completion. Is the absence of the baseball really an external condition, as Mr. Girgis would like to paint it? And is it really accidental? Mr. Girgis would like to say that male-female intercourse which lacks at least one reproductive organ necessary for conception is still an essential part of the process leading to conception because the absence of that organ is an external or accidental condition. But when that organ is necessary to achieve conception its absence is by no means accidental to the process of achieving conception. Though Mr. Girgis may protest, his decision to include infertile heterosexual intercourse under the generative act category really is gerrymandering. If he wishes to define bodily union as he does, he will not be able to include infertile couples. Thus his decision to include infertile heterosexual but not homosexual couples is simply unjustified.
    But let me make this clear: I am not arguing that fertile heterosexual couples are more marriageable or in some way better than infertile ones. That argument is repulsive to me. Indeed, even the analogy I used above I find repulsive, as it paints infertile couples as lacking in some essential way. I use the analogy simply to show that within Girgis’ own reductivist system his conclusions are not tenable.
    Mr. Girgis claims that I have proven too much. Alas, he has proven all too little. Girgis suggests that bodily union and marriageability depend solely on facts about what is happening between two individual’s bodies. I suggest that this is an immature oversimplification. My argument is merely intended to preserve the possibility of a deeper grounding for bodily union and marriageability than the one offered by Girgis. This hardly requires the reader to abandon any deeply held ethical positions. I am merely urging a return to common sense.
    Further, I would like to address Girgis’ claim that my “revisionism, like others’, would collapse marriage into ordinary friendship.” Girgis is fond of claiming that if heterosexual sexual exclusivity isn’t the sole condition for marriageability, then we will have no convincing conditions; that, as he says, we might as well make tennis exclusivity the condition. I hope the reader will have the common sense to recognize that this is nothing but the most preposterous lollygagging (forgive the flourish). Let Mr. Girgis ask even the most devoted tennis players: I am confident he will discover that for them too there are degrees of depth in human relationships between intercourse and a tennis match. On the contrary, Mr. Girgis’ reductionism would collapse much of what is noble, beautiful, and sacred in human relations into tennis. And the defense of those human values, which I trust Mr. Girgis shares with me, has been my purpose all along.

  2. What Mr. Antich is not willing to acknowledge is that there is a vast difference between principles and accidents. Conception between one man and one woman is possible in principle. Infertility IS an accidental condition. To repeat Girgis’ point, albeit in a less articulate way, when a husband and wife share the marital act during her regular period of infertility, this remains full bodily union ordered to a biological end. Whether or not that biological end is reached is irrelevant. The act is still ordered towards procreation in principle. But with two men or two women, fertility isn’t just impossible accidentally, it is impossible in principle. There is no biological end to which their act can be ordered, regardless of how many “noble human values” are involved. Girgis is trying to make a case for what marriage IS; he is giving a definition. Definitions are made on principles. And to say that principles don’t matter is to be irrational. Our nation makes laws based on principles so it is important to articulate what those principles are, which Mr. Girgis does.

    Girgis’ efforts in the academic sphere are a call to action in the public sphere. Rational philosophical arguments defending traditional, such as those from Girgis, will no doubt play a pivotal role in the forthcoming U.S. Surpreme Court case over Proposition 8 in California. I would honestly not be surprised to find some of Girgis’ language represented in the majority decision.

    Some may say that the tide is turning, that enshrining the revisionist view of marriage within our civil law is “inevitable.” But when the gay rights lobby is 0-31 (yes, that’s right, 0 wins, 31 losses) in public, state-wide referendums on advancing a revisionist (or Antichian) view of marriage, I question how inevitable it really is.

  3. I have three points on a metaphysical score; I have a few more things to say generally. My analysis assumes a basic familiarity with Sherif Girgis’s natural law reasoning, which says that homosexual sodomy is “self-alienating” because it “instrumentalizes the bodily aspect of the person to the conscious, desiring self.” The obvious offshoot of this argument, as it affects the marriage debate, is that coitus is distinguishable from sodomy because it’s “ordered to a biological good.”

    Let’s start in the abstract. Natural law is a theory with antecedents in the foundationalist philosophies of Aquinas and Aristotle. Unfortunately for its proponents, foundationalism is dead. The Hegel-Nietzsche-Heidegger-Derrida sequence in continental philosophy and the Wittgenstein-Quine-Sellars-Davidson-Habermas-Rorty-Brandom sequence in analytical philosophy killed it. In short, and for reasons I won’t get into here, Neo-Aristotelianism is, at best, optional, and at worst, completely implausible. The Linguistic Turn has rendered unintelligible the correspondence theory of truth—and, consequently, the notion that “the human good” is a practice-independent OBJECT of inquiry.
    Second, even if we play Girgis’s philosophical game, biological facts have no normative import. The fact that coition is “ordered to the biological end” of baby-making does nothing to resolve this debate. It’s no less a fact that anal intercourse, anilingus, and cunnilingus are “ordered toward the biological end” of sexual satisfaction. And it only harms Girgis when he throws in the term “organic,” for that’s just teleology. The point is simple: deriving the “ought” from the two “biological facts” stated above is morally indeterminate. This is why theorists of so-called natural law assert that “the data of experience” reveals that coition—and not gay sex—“self-evidently” provides all individuals a non-instrumental reason for action. But “the data of experience” is far too abstract to definitively determine whether or not the “basic sexual good” should be broad enough to encompass homosexual conduct. Girgis’s arguments to the contrary are nothing but hot air.
    Now to my third, related point: Could someone give me an example of a NON-bodily end? Answering that question puts one in no man’s land: figuring out the mind-body “problem.” Girgis presumably believes that he has it all figured it, for he claims that coitus alone affects a “BODILY good” that morally separates it from sodomy. I honestly don’t think he realizes that people experience themselves as linguistic animals, not as “dynamic unities of body, mind, and spirit”; the evidence lies in the fact that nobody has come up with a persuasive CRITERION for distinguishing “mind” from body (the concept of “brain” is a word like “toe”). So the burden of proof is on GIRGIS to demonstrate that people occupy constitutively different ontological categories, ones with constitutively different “ends” and “goods.” Accordingly, sodomy and coitus may be good, bad, or something in between, but whatever we decide they are, they’re ALL bodily until further notice. Girgis’s contrary arguments have no choice but to appeal to “self-evident practical reason” (surreptitious Catholic teleology) or arbitrarily saying that “properly ordered” sex requires a man and woman (overt Catholic teleology).

    Where does this leave the concept of selfhood? Nowhere determinate, that’s for damn sure. And this indeterminacy extirpates the plausibility of Girgis’s overt argument that coitus is “self-evidently” a “basic bodily good,” and his implicit argument that “the body” has a set of basic goods constitutively different from the mythical aspect of self Girgis requires but hasn’t established.

    Worse still for Girgis’s mythical dualism, he loses even if we assume it and he loses if we deny it! As I see it, Girgis has two ontological options: First, homosexual sodomy and coitus are BOTH instances of our bodies being “instrumentalized” to the aspect of the self (our Cartesian Minds, presumably) with the capacity to make normative judgments. And second, homosexual sodomy and coitus are both BODILY acts (because humans are nothing more than behaviorally complex chimpanzees), in which case only EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE or TELEOLOGY can circumscribe “intrinsically valuable sex” to exclude certain forms of sexual conduct (assuming natural law, of course). Whichever tack Girgis chooses, he fails miserably in providing determinate reasons for his views. Of course, this has no necessary connection with defining marriage; it may very well be that marriage SHOULD be circumscribed to exclude certain relationships.

    So now let’s talk about marriage. There is no “revisionist” view of marriage; the concept has no individual referent. Contemporary natural law theorists—even the ones as sophisticated as Girgis—make the elementary analytical error of confusing causation with correlation. Whatever the merits of so-called natural law, there is not one non-natural law theorist alive who has either (1) taken the time to articulate an essentialist definition of marriage or (2) concluded that “’reason itself’ dictates that the ‘one-flesh’ union be venerated as a ‘basic good,’ one which provides everyone a ‘non-instrumental’ reason for acting.” To suggest otherwise is to suggest that “non-philosophers” engage in Cartesian self-reflection about mind-body dualism and Aristotelian metaphysics. Fat chance. It’s far more likely that our traditions are informed by anti-homosexual sentiment (presumably due to religious beliefs and what Martha Nussbaum calls “the politics of disgust”) as well as the fact that the vast majority of people are heterosexual (and thus really like vagina sex). And as for homoerotic cultures like Ancient Greece, “marriage” between a man and a woman was an economic, women-subjegating institution; this stands in stark contrast to the contemporary understanding of the concept of marriage, which calls to mind Jane Austen and Romeo & Juliet more than Plato and Aristotle.

    And that’s the point: marriage is just a concept (word), concepts come from people, and people often change. (This is a natural consequence of being what the eminent Richard Posner calls “monkeys with large brains—period.”) Because there is no definition of marriage “out there” like a Platonic Form, the questions are not metaphysical but rather pragmatic: Should the government be involved in sexual matter at all? What is the interest of the government in preventing same-sex couples who parent from receiving equal benefits? What are the implications of same-sex marriage for religious liberty? Do the goals of providing marriage licenses to homosexuals and causing people who have children to do so more responsibly mutually exclude one another? Can we solve the problem by simply providing benefits to economically sturdy couples (gay or straight) who raise children, incentivizing responsible parenting AND respecting homosexuality as equal in dignity to heterosexuality? I don’t know the answers to these questions. But I sure as hell wish the academics on both “sides” would stop parrying and jousting with arguments about “one-flesh unions” and “everyone who opposes marriage equality is a homophobe.” For perhaps then the REAL issues would be resolved.

    With respect to the Proposition 8 in the 9th Circuit: “What the courts will do in fact, and nothing more pretentious are what I mean by the law.” That’s the best piece of legal insight ever articulated.

  4. To Mr. Wester, on the occasion of his second comment on a comment of mine.
    On the contrary, I think that I am very much willing to acknowledge that there is a difference between principles and accidents. Though, it may be that the wide-seeing Chris Wester knows my will better than I. Yet, I shall persist as if I did have some knowledge as to myself.
    Thus, I would agree, though without having investigated the matter thoroughly, that often infertility is an accidental condition and that infertility during the aforementioned time of the month is an accidental condition. I would add that contraceptives provide a further accidental condition (in the technical sense of accident, of course, for I rather suspect that few couples contracept on accident). But I am speaking of a very specific sort of infertility, one caused by the absence of a more or less minor reproductive organ – one without which heterosexual intercourse could occur, but conception could not. I mean some organ necessary for conception. I continue to claim that the absence of an organ necessary for conception is not accidental to the process of conception. This is analogous to the claim that the absence of any light bulb from a lamp is not accidental, but indeed is essential, to the process of lighting (specifically to the process of lighting with an electric lamp). Or indeed, that the absence of an engine from a car is not accidental to the process of driving. Or again, that the absence of life in a human is not accidental to the process of thinking. I take it that the absence of some light bulb is not accidental to lighting, that the presence of some engine is not accidental to driving, that the presence of life is not accidental to thinking, and that the presence of the reproductive organ which is necessary for reproduction is not accidental to reproduction. That is to say, each of these is essential to its respective process. Mr. Wester had better clarify his argument as to why I am incorrect on this point.
    A second point, then. Mr. Wester claims that conception between one man and one woman is possible in principle. Right he is! He further claims that because conception between one man and one woman is possible in principle, one man and one woman are marriageable. Fine there too. One should note, however, that this argument appears to achieve what Mr. Wester wants only because it is of just the right specificity. Let’s be a little less specific: conception between one human and another human is possible in principle. This is also true, and indeed, it is nothing new under the sun that two humans should conceive with each other. So there we have it. Two humans are marriageable. Mr. Wester, evidently a forward-thinker, has given us a fine pattern for allowing gay marriage. Now let’s narrow the scope. Conception between one man, who lacks an organ necessary for reproduction, and one woman is possible in principle. This is simply not the case, and so Mr. Wester, evidently rather litigious, has given us a pattern for excluding infertile heterosexual marriage. I am not satisfied. He will have to justify his choice of specificity, preferably, once again, by explaining why the absence of an organ necessary for conception is accidental to the process of conception.
    Next, if Mr. Wester did, indeed, accuse me of the opposite, I should explain that I am not, in principle, opposed to principles.
    It is unclear whether Mr. Wester is addressing me with his final two paragraphs. I will say, though, that I have made no pretence to the inevitability of gay-marriage. Indeed, in the politics of men, it is never by necessity that justice shows itself, and virtue is a rare thing. It is for this reason that we engage in discussion in the first place.
    Alas, finally, that the first time my name should have been made an adjective in print was as a synonym for revisionism!

  5. One of the nice things about these discussions is that it encourages the honing and clarification of definitions. The definition of marriage that I am using is “a union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together.” This is, of course, the definition that Girgis, George, and Anderson use in their piece. It is the best I have seen.

    Another definition: when I use the phrase “infertility” with regards to a male human being, I am referring to men who possess all of the external organs necessary for the marital act. Maybe I wasn’t clear earlier. Comparing an infertile man, who suffers from an internal deficiency, with a eunuch, who has removed a particular male organ (surgically, in battle, whatever) is comparing apples and oranges.

    But I realize that you are not necessarily talking about eunuchs. You make the claim that a woman’s period of infertility may be an accidental condition, but an absence of some internal organ necessary for conception is not accidental. This argument fails. The infertile period is, by definition, an internal configuration that renders conception nearly impossible (I say “nearly” because there is always an exception, supposedly sterile couples have been known to get pregnant in extreme circumstances). Let’s try a more extreme example. Take a sterilized man. I’m no doctor, but let’s assume that the process of sterilization involves removing one of these mystery internal/”non-accidental” organs. Is this man’s act with his wife complete bodily union ordered towards a mutual biological end? Certainly. Even a sterilized man and a sterilized woman, so long as they remain fully capable of bodily union, can still partake in the marital act. For the marital act is not an act that MUST result in conception, but an act between two people that is ordered to a particular biological end, regardless of accidental impediments, such as permanent or temporary infertility.

    (Tangent) This is not to say that sterilization is somehow morally neutral. Denying the procreative while retaining the unitive aspects of human sexuality is a grave moral wrong, but it doesn’t make the act any less marital, given its order towards a natural end. The idea that couples have a RIGHT to a child is absurd; sex is now understood as being normatively sterile. You only get pregnant if you make the CHOICE to. But this view is false. The only real CHOICE that the sexual revolution offered was a choice NOT to have a baby (i.e. artificial contraception and its backup option, abortion). Actually conceiving a child remains a medical miracle and something that Christians leave up to the hands of God. No parents have a right to a child. Children have a right to their parents. Distorting that relationship objectifies children, which I think we can all agree is a terrible thing.

    But back to the issue at hand. Where complete bodily union between two particular persons, a union ordered to a natural biological end, is impossible in principle, marriage is impossible. Two men cannot perform any true “marital” act since there is no biological end that their act can be ordered to. They can perform a variety of other acts that can involve human tenderness, but since when has tenderness defined what is a marriage and what is not? Why does do tender acts even need to be sexual at all? Or limited to two people? If tenderness becomes the sole standard by which our civil law defines marriage, we will end up with a civil registry of friendships. No, there is only one act that can rightfully be called “marital,” the conjugal union of a man and woman. Our civil law should enshrine, in statute, this conjugal understanding of marriage. Seeking to change the historic definition of the “marital act” is precisely what is meant by revisionism. Mr. Antich: if equality and justice is the name of the game here, and your view is not genuinely revisionist in nature, then a same-sex marriage ought to have a “consummating act” just like an opposite-sex marriage. What, in your view, is the “consummating act” of a homosexual union?

    Mr. Antich also accuses me of being too specific when describing the conjugal view of marriage. To which I respond, of course I’m being specific! This is a very specific human relationship we are discussing. It was Mr. Antich’s move to ignore engendered personhood and expand the argument to address humanity in the abstract. Let’s expand the scope even further, humans are material beings, so two material beings can conceive a human child. So an elephant and a chipmunk (material beings) can conceive a human child. This argument is absurd. Mr. Antich’s argument appears to succeed only because he expanded the scope to suit his needs; the whole argument of those seeking to protect marriage is that the scope needs to be limited and defined within specific contours.

    Mr. Antich: I believe I have articulated a definition of marriage. If you are not opposed to principles, per your claim, then might we hear your principled definition of marriage? Because as of right now, I do not see a difference between the revisionist view and your own (hence Antichianism, copyright 2012, Chris Wester, all rights reserved).

  6. Mr. Wester suggests that a marital act should be defined as an act between two people that is ordered to a particular biological end. I suspect that much of the impasse between myself and people of Mr. Wester’s mind may be due to ambiguity about what, in fact, qualifies an act as “ordered to a biological end.” I have taken the criterion of qualification to be that the act is, in the case of the marital or generative act, “an act of the kind than can cause conception”. Further, I have shown that if we take this to be the criterion, then the category has indeed been gerrymandered. No reply has been forthcoming. So, I suggest that we might make some progress if Mr. Wester, fond of principles, were to offer a principled account of this criterion.

    Another question I have for Mr. Wester is the following: what distinguishes the internal organs (which are necessary for conception) involved in the generative act (an act of the kind that can cause conception) from the external ones? I mean to ask, specifically, what to his mind makes them accidental. An answer to this question, I suspect, would be of some help in establishing what he means by the term “marital act”.

    Mr. Wester has read only half my objection, in claiming that I have accused him of being too specific. I also accused him of being too general! More exactly, I accused him of being just specific enough to achieve the goal he wanted. Curiously, Mr. Wester has understood this second half of my objection rather well. He demonstrates it thus: “Let’s expand the scope even further, humans are material beings, so two material beings can conceive a human child. So an elephant and a chipmunk (material beings) can conceive a human child. This argument is absurd.” My objection claimed that this “absurd” argument was precisely that used by Mr. Wester himself. (Though, to be clear, I do not wish to call Mr. Wester’s argument absurd.) The argument runs: a man and a woman can conceive a child. Jane and George are a man and a woman. Therefore, Jane and George can conceive a child. But, if Jane and George are both infertile, then they cannot conceive a child. The argument is clearly flawed. Mr. Wester’s claim that conception between a man and a woman is possible in principle has just as much bearing as the claim that conception between two material beings is possible. This was, of course, my original point in objecting. If he wishes his claim to have bearing, Mr. Wester ought to offer a principled account for his chosen level of specificity.

    Finally, I appreciate Mr. Wester’s invitation to offer a principled account of marriage of my own. He has, I think, mistaken my objective in entering this debate. My objective was never to argue for a particular principled account of marriage. This is because I have none. It has always been my policy not to speak when I have nothing to say, especially when whatever I ventured to say would lay claim to what people can or cannot do with their lives. This is not to say that the matter is one which I will not endeavor to think about. (As it stands, not having formed an account of my own, I intend to remain slightly disgruntled to find my nominal adjective used synonymously with “revisionism”. I wonder if Mr. Wester is not a little trigger happy with the word!) If Mr. Wester would like an account of marriage that differs from his own, he might get a hold of Martha Nussbaum’s essay, “A Right to Marry”.

    As I said, I am not, in principle, opposed to principles. But my principle has been this: One should not defend a principled account just because it is a principled account. And where one detects an error, one should point it out.

  7. Mr. Antich is correct in identifying the critical point of this debate: what does our side mean by “ordered towards a natural end.” We assume several things when we make this argument, the most important being that there exists a human nature that is universal and unchanging. A sterilized or a barren woman is, by definition, in a state contrary to how she should naturally be. She suffers from an ailment. When we make the argument for marriage, we make the argument from the natural, not the unnatural. What is natural cannot be “gerrymandered,” it is simply scientific truth. If marriage unites persons (which is what our side argues), and if persons are embodied, then marriage must include a bodily union of persons. The marital act, and the martial act only, is the only act in which two distinct persons can unite bodily as part of a biological process towards a coordinated goal. This is simply scientific truth and it is not disputed by any competent scientist. Two men’s acts, solitary acts, or whatever else Mr. Antich envisions as beings “gerrymandered” out of the equation, none of these form an intrinsic part of the process of coordinated reproduction. They are not bodily unions; they are not marital acts. That is the principle of the matter, and I’m afraid it demolishes Mr. Antich’s argument that any coordinated effort towards a goal creates the bodily union necessary for a marriage. Mr. Girgis is correct when he points out that Mr. Antich’s “revisionism, like others’, would collapse marriage into ordinary friendship.”

    To Mr. Antich’s credit, his final paragraph displays an intellectual honesty that is very enlightening. Mr. Antich writes, “My objective was never to argue for a particular principled account of marriage. This is because I have none.” A principle is that which pertains to the definition of something, i.e. the truth about something. What Mr. Antich is saying, and he can correct me if I misunderstand, is that he has NO definition of marriage. This is either because A) he has not arrived at one yet or b) there is no such thing as marriage and therefore, there is no definition of it. I hope that the former is the case; however, it is my fear that the latter is actually true. In a 2006 document, Martha Nussbaum (whose work Mr. Antich offers to me as an antidote), along with several other scholars, argued that polyamorous and multiple-household sexual relationships, as well as a variety of non-sexual relationships, should be recognized under the law. They see no reason why the coordinated process of reproduction should be the foundation of the legal definition of marriage. Mr. Antich’s citation of one of more prominent revisionists (Nussbaum) in academia worries me that he too sees no reason why the state should not provide the same legal recognition to these relationships, as they do with marriage (in effect creating a civil registry of friendships). These revisionists admit that public policies geared toward their goals would weaken the current definition marriage. And I couldn’t agree more…

    The legal definition of marriage, as it stands currently in most states, honors the reality of human nature. The entire purpose of this discussion is to debate how the law should define marriage. I have provided a definition. And none of Mr. Antich’s arguments against that definition succeed. He has no definition. Instead, he offers a complaint that the traditional, conjugal view of marriage is too narrow and is “gerrymandered.” If that is his principle, then he is indeed a revisionist, for he shares their central tenet: that marriage differs only in degree, and not in kind, from other relational bonds. In which case, to quote Girgis, “non-marital relationships, as between sisters or close friends, are diminished, for marriage offers simply the most of what makes any union valuable: shared experience. Those who (for whatever reasons) do not marry just settle for less.” It is our side that protects the noble human values of which Mr. Antich speaks, treasuring the wide ambit of different human relationships and the depth that each offers.

  8. I don’t see that the issue of infertility is a problem for Girgis. We can say that male and female sex organs are the sorts of things that are built to conceive children. Now let’s suppose this: these organs are being used correctly if they are being used in the way that tends to conceive children for members of the human species (i.e. in coitus). Infertile couples can have coitus. They can use their sexual organs in the way that tends to conceive children for members of the human species. Therefore, infertile couples can use their sexual organs correctly.

    The critique of Girgis from infertile marriage simply misses its mark.

  9. I am a little surprised to find that after so much time our discussion has not progressed at all. More specifically, I am surprised to find that still no one has offered an argument against my specific critique of Girgis’ position, but instead took the opportunity to say at greater length what they have already said. This is perhaps my fault for not making my argument sufficiently clear. So let me endeavor to repeat my critique more precisely.
    Let me make use of Mr. Hannegan’s interlocution to spell out Girgis’ argument (thereby, hopefully, saving myself the trouble of addressing Hannegan separately):
    a) Only pairings of two people that use sex organs correctly are marriageable
    But, b) Only pairings of one man with one woman use sex organs correctly.
    Thus, c) Only pairings of one man with one woman are marriageable.
    One can break down b) into:
    d) Only pairings of two people that use sex organs in the way that tends to conceive children, use sex organs correctly.
    But, e) Only pairings of one man with one woman use sex organs in the way that tends to conceive children.
    Thus, b) Only pairings of one man with one woman use sex organs correctly.
    There are, then, a great number of assumptions one could argue about. Being a generous spirit, if I do say so myself, I have granted as many of these as possible save one. I wish only to ask my conversants to give an argument for point e). Of course, it’s precisely because I’ve chosen this point that the argument seems to confuse so many of my conversants. Again, in the spirit of generosity, let me try to give my conversants a simple, precise mode of argument. I think, any justification of point e) will look something like this (where A is, of course, a variable predicate):
    f) Only pairings of two people that are A, use sex organs in the way that tends to conceive children.
    But, g) Only pairings of one man with one woman are A.
    Thus, e) Only pairings of one man with one woman use sex organs in the way that tends to conceive children.
    What I want to know is: what A is? Now it seems very logical to me that A should mean “able to produce children”. I say this because there is an obvious tie between the ability to produce children and the tendency to produce children. But, as I have already objected, this cannot be the meaning of A, because ultimately one would have to refine the syllogism to exclude “pairings of one infertile man with one infertile woman”. One must refine the syllogism because one must be specific to the highest significant degree. And one must be specific to the highest significant degree for reasons I have already discussed: if one is not specific to the highest significant degree one is simply gerrymandering. I mean, if one isn’t specific to the highest significant degree one would have also to say that pairings of two humans are able to produce children, and thus, after working up the logical chain, are marriageable. But we have already discussed this, and once again, no reply has been forthcoming. I am asking what I have asked from the very beginning: what is an act of the type that tends to conceive children. It’s no use simply saying coitus, because one could just as easily say intercourse generally: coitus does tend to lead to the conception of children, but so does intercourse, and so does action generally. Once again, it’s a problem of specificity. The solution is to say why coitus, and not intercourse generally, is the way of using sex organs that tends to conceive children. Nor do I need a biology lesson, thank you very much. Quite simply, please tell me what A is.
    Not to be curt, but I am getting a little tired not only of Mr. Wester’s unwillingness to address my arguments, but also his voracious appetite for putting words in my mouth. I never claimed to agree or disagree with Dr. Nussbaum’s position; I merely wished to expand my conversant’s horizons. More to the point, I am unsure whether to crack a smile or to despair of this university, in which I truly do believe, at his remarkable thirst to brand me a revisionist. To quote:
    “Instead, [Mr. Antich] offers a complaint that the traditional, conjugal view of marriage is too narrow and is ‘gerrymandered.’ If that is his principle, then he is indeed a revisionist, for he shares their central tenet: that marriage differs only in degree, and not in kind, from other relational bonds.”
    1) I have not, I think, ever attacked the traditional view of marriage. Instead I have attacked a particular formulation of it.
    2) There is no necessary connection between finding the traditional view of marriage too narrow and sharing in the tenet that marriage differs only in degree, and not in kind, from other relational bonds. This is simply absurd. If I wanted to, I could quite easily say that marriage differs in kind from other relationships in that it is sexual. Certainly, one can have sex and not be married, but one can just as easily have coitus and not be married. I see no reason why this isn’t a possible explanation of a difference in kind. But to assuage Mr. Wester’s fears, I am not saying I hold this principle: I’m merely saying that it is a possible principle, and that thus his claim that I must be a revisionist is simply unfounded.

  10. Peter,

    You say that “there is an obvious tie between the ability to produce children and the tendency to produce children.”

    I’m afraid that you’re confusing a thing’s telos with its causal abilities. Here’s why you might want to avoid that confusion.

    Suppose that your car will not start. Then suppose that I ask you, “what is your car for?” If you equate causal ability and telos, then you would have to respond, “I don’t know what it’s for, but it’s certainly not for driving.” That would be a strange answer.

    When my car breaks down, I am disappointed because I know 1) that it’s for driving, and 2) that it is not currently capable of doing what it is meant to do.

    Here is the example restated for a bodily organ. My friend was playing racketball and was hit in the eye. His eye clouded up and he could not see any more. Even though his eye lacked the causal ability to see, the telos of the eye was still vision–which he regained in a few hours. The eye, whether impaired or not, is for seeing.

    The same goes for people who are infertile. Their sexual organs, on the natural law account, are for conception (have conception as a telos), even though they they lack the causal ability necessary for conception. Now remember that natural law ethics requires using a thing in accord with its telos, not with its specific causal abilities.

    With regard to specificity, “coitus” is the answer to the question of what act tends (tendecy here being construed as telos rather than causal disposition) to bring about conception. Other sexual acts do not begin natural processes that have conception as their telos. Therefore when we engage in such activities we do not use our sex organs correct. This is why Girgis specifies coitus as the only essentially procreative act amongst sexual activities. The answer to your question, therefore, lies in distinguishing between telos and causal profile.

    Natural law theorists do provide answers to your concerns. If you are still puzzled about the view, I would recommend looking up the Witherspoon Institute, John Finnis at Oxford, and Robert George at Princeton.

  11. Mr. Hannegan,
    Thanks for your helpful and mature comments.
    It seems to me, however, that your argument applies only in the case that fertility is always accidental to the generative act. As I have suggested, fertility may also be essential to the generative act.
    Before spelling these claims out, let me give an example. A human being is a rational animal (let’s leave aside the finer anthropological points here). But, let’s say a human being loses his power of reason, because he, for instance, dies. We are left with a body. Would we call this body human? If I take you reaction to the broken down car, then, when I see the body, I will say, “Aw shucks. This is disappointing. This body is meant for reason and it’s not doing what it’s meant to.” Now I remember, as you suggest, that natural law ethics requires using a thing in accord with its telos, not with its specific causal abilities. But, because they are rational animals, other people are meant for talking to, not, for instance, for burying six feet under the ground. So remembering this point about natural law, I see the body and say, “Well, what do you think justice is?”, and I proceed to have a pleasant and enlightening conversation with my rather laconic interlocutor, instead of placing him in a casket, and placing that casket six feet under the ground.
    I think you will agree with me that this is rather unusual behavior. And it is unusual behavior because the body is not a human being. And the body is not a human being, because not only does it not actualize the human potential for reason, but because it does not have that potential in the first place.
    This is precisely the case with the generative act. Now, to be clear, I am not in the least saying that infertile human beings are not human beings. One need not hesitate to claim that such a position is repugnant. All I am saying is that natural law, if it takes itself seriously, cannot classify infertile heterosexual intercourse under the category “generative act”. This is clear for the following reason: the essence of the generative act is that it is capable, in principle if not in practice, of causing conception. A generative act will have the potentiality to cause conception, even if this potentiality is never fully actualized. But infertile heterosexual intercourse that is infertile due, for instance, to the absence of a minor, “internal” sexual organ, lacks the potentiality to cause conception, as I have previously argued. To take this intercourse as a generative act is akin to taking the body as a human being.
    (Again, I regret that the language I must use is offensive to infertile couples. Obviously, it is not my opinion that infertile intercourse is to fertile intercourse as the body is to the human being. However, it seem to me that this comparison, is the necessary conclusion of the principles of my conversants when carried to their logical end. And this is another reason that I oppose their principles.)
    In this case, if I am infertile, I have sexual organs, but am not able to use them for the generative act. But the generative act is the only act which tends to bring about conception. And only such an act are a correct use of my sexual organs. Alas, I will not be able to make correct use of my sexual organs.
    But it seems absurd to me to say that an infertile individual cannot make correct use of his or her sexual organs. And so I end this comment as I have ended so many others before.
    Finally, thanks to Mr. Hannegan for the literature. I have read George, but am only casually familiar with the others. I will give them a read if, ever again, I have time for such intellectual endeavors.

  12. This discussion is now over. My attempt at defending Girgis and making a case for marriage was surpassed by Mr. Hannegan’s concise and decisive articulation. But if neither Girgis or Hannegan can convince Mr. Antich to take natural law ethics seriously and following its logical conclusions, then I certainly can’t. He has been presented the case and has rejected it. Unfortunately, there is little more any of us can do.

    Best of luck finishing your degree. And Happy Easter!

  13. Mr. Wester makes it sound as if we were in an ER and my pulse had stoppped!

    Well, this is certainly one way to end a conversation: to pronounce it closed, on the grounds that the correct position has been presented, but the conversant has not assented.
    But it is not a respectful way to end a conversation.

    On the other hand, I thank Mr. Wester for his good wishes, and I regret that I am a month too late to wish him an equally happy Easter.

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