About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Irrationality, a personal study

by Massimo Pigliucci

My Facebook account is reserved for close friends and family (if you want to follow my writings, there’s Twitter). One of my very close relatives is a fellow of about my age, self-professed politically progressive, and with whom there is a lot of reciprocal respect and love. The ideal conditions to conduct the occasional rational discourse on politics or social issues, right? Wrong.

Below is a not too fictional dialogue (meaning that the gist is there, accounting for translation from Italian and some editing) with my relative. The topic is gay rights, and specifically a new directive to be implemented at the Mamiani High School in Rome. The administrators there have decided that forms to justify students’ absences from school will say “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” instead of “Father” and “Mother.” Apparently, the move has been extremely controversial, immediately branded as an attack on the traditional family, blah blah blah.

I asked my relative (R, below; I’m M) what he thought of the issue. Here is what I learned:

R: It’s nonsense.

M: Well, actually it is aimed at making non-traditional families feel included.

R: It’s a politically correct way to go around the law. [In Italy gay couples still cannot legally adopt children, though one member of the couple can, thereby creating a de facto pair of adoptive parents.]

M: But it doesn’t violate or undermine any law, it’s a simple administrative decision to help kids and their families.

R: But the law doesn’t recognize gay parents.

M: But it should, right?

R: The natural state is that of a mother and a father.

M: Just because something is natural it doesn’t follow that it is right. Poisonous mushrooms are natural too, for instance… And incidentally, the family based on a heterosexual married couple is not natural at all, it is a recent cultural invention. Perhaps we should have tribes of 40-50 relatives raise kids instead? That was the natural state of things back in the Pleistocene.

R: You always approach things rationally. But there are also such things as emotions.

M: True, but we are talking about people’s rights. Usually when one invokes emotions it is because one is running out of arguments. And emotions often hide simple prejudice, sometimes unbeknownst to the prejudiced person himself.

R: Bottom line is, I don’t need your permission to object to something.

M: No you don’t. But by posting the article on Facebook and commenting on it you invited my comments, no?

R: Still, I’m not homophobic, I don’t hate gays. But I have serious doubts about letting them raise children.

M: Ok… Are these doubts based on factual evidence showing that children of gay couples develop psychological problems, or you just don’t like the idea?

R: Regardless of what you say, I have a right to my opinions.

M: You do. And I have a right to criticize them. But emotional responses aren’t opinions.

R: You know, sometimes you take on the professor role, and that’s irritating.

M: I am a professor, it’s not a role. It sounds to me like you think anyone asking you for reasons is just an annoying egg-headed intellectual.

R: But the problem is that you keep splitting hairs, you are missing the big picture.

M: I prefer to think that I am getting clear about what you think and why. At any rate, what picture am I missing?

R: Well, for instance, gay couples cannot have children naturally, so they can’t be parents.

M: There you go again with the “natural” thing. What about heterosexual couples who are infertile and adopt? Are they not parents, then?

R: It sounds to me like you engage in discussions to convince people, not to exchange ideas.

M: It sounds to me like you don’t want an exchange of ideas, just a chance to vent your emotional response to a decision you dislike.

I find the above exchange deeply saddening and depressing. Here I am, devoting my life to engaging people in reasonable discourse, and I can’t even get a simple and relatively uncontroversial point across with someone who broadly agrees with my worldview (e.g., R is an atheist, and politically leaning left, as I said), and who cares deeply for me.

Still, there are some interesting lessons to be learned here. To begin with, R’s responses are an unwitting catalogue of everything I expect from the Tea Party these days, and R doesn’t even know what the Tea Party is! This ought to count as an example of parallel cultural evolution, which probably reflects a number of deep seated cognitive biases that R shares with a surprising number of people — again, including politically progressive ones such as himself.

In fact, a closer look reveals what amounts to a collection of textbook examples of logical fallacies and generalized bad reasoning. Notice, for instance, how R repeatedly commits the naturalistic fallacy, arguing that if X is natural therefore X must be good. Even though I quickly pointed out that X (in this instance) was not at all “natural,” and that at any rate there are plenty of easy counter-examples that undermine that particular move.

R also repeatedly invoked what seems to amount to an epistemic role for emotions, something that has been studied recently in some detail by social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt (and I mention him despite my own reservations about some of Haidt’s claims).

Notice also the anti-intellectualism that emerges during the exchange. Since R knows that I am a philosophy professor, he thinks that I’m lecturing him instead of dialoging with him — and he resents it.

R lashes out by saying that he has a right to his opinions, which he certainly does. But he doesn’t seem to be aware that that right is mirrored by my right to criticize such opinions. That part of the exchange reminded me of several people I encountered while I was living in Tennessee, who actually thought they had a constitutional right not to be offended. (On the contrary, the US Constitution gives people the right to offend — it’s called freedom of speech.)

There is also a bit of paranoia in R’s reactions (“I don’t need your permission to think what I think”), which I know reflects his general distrust of authority (perceived or real).

R at times sounded a bit disingenuous, for instance when he accused me of wanting to convince people instead of engaging in an open and honest exchange of ideas. Setting aside that the two goals are definitely not mutually exclusive, why did R post the article (and commented negatively) to begin with? Isn’t the point of sharing something on Facebook to make a statement about a particular topic, both seeking support from like minded people and providing food for thought to those who disagree? I find the “you just want to be right” objection from people who vehemently argue with you to be very strange. As if they were arguing for the sheer pleasure of being challenged intellectually, with no intention whatsoever to persuade you of their own point of view.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing to me, however, is to see an intelligent person like R being completely unaware of the basics of reasoned discourse. He thinks I’m “splitting hairs” when I point out flagrant contradictions or incoherencies in his positions. More broadly, there seems to be a Tea party-like attitude of complete disregard for both reason (“Emotions count too, you know?”) and factual evidence. Whenever I commented on a non sequitur or about him getting basic facts wrong he simply ignored the corrections and moved to another target.

I will eventually recover from this exchange and redouble my efforts to engage people in rational discourse. This post is meant to be cathartic in that sense. I still think a good dose of rationality can only benefit humanity. It’s not that emotions aren’t important, of course they are. But they’ve had the run of things for quite a long time now. Nobody wants to simply substitute them with “cold” reason, Spock-like (or Plato-like, if you will). We just want to begin to address the huge imbalance between emotion and reason in public discourse, an imbalance that still makes it possible for people of good will to say with a straight face and in all sincerity that they don’t hate gays, they just think gays shouldn’t have the same rights that they themselves enjoy without question, or thought.

199 comments:

  1. I don't know why every political reactionary needs to be compared to the tea party, every country has them and the tea party has very specific Americo-centric aims that do not translate.

    Rejections of cold logic are also used by some progressives.

    What you are identifying is just standard political dialogue.

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  2. Maybe history can help. Gay marriage legally existed in the Roman world up until the 500s CE. Emperor Justinian, a Christian, was the first to make a law actually banning it. So Western society may not have been excited about it up until that point, but at least gay marriage licenses were being issued. That puts to rest the idea that gay marriage is a novelty of recent times.

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    1. Well that depends on your definition of recent.

      There's also the wide range of non-Christian cultures to consider.

      Now don't get me wrong, I want it to be legalised, but from my point of view this is a "flash in the pan" of reasonableness.

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    2. Armies, if you will (it might be anachronistic) of the ancient Celts actually promoted gay troops in battle; the idea was, in part, if that man had your tuchis covered in the foxhole, so to speak, he'd do so elsewhere.

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    3. This is incredibly similar to my every day experience with my family. The majority of my family are very intelligent, but when it comes to certain things (such as religion) they disregard all facts or attempt to persuade me by purely emotional arguments. I find it incredibly disconcerting and rather terrifying that such intelligent people could be so ill-informed and logic denying in certain cases, often without even realizing it or accepting it.

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  3. Acting upon one's emotions is generally not a good thing, many people have erred because they made poor decisions based on emotions. This is true both in daily life as in political discourse.

    However, I regard emotional responses as opinions, albeit not rational ones. There's requirement that an opinion should always have to be a rational one. However, if one wants to engage in discussions one has to defend his or her opinions with rational arguments.

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  4. Dear M, I don't like butterscotch pudding, and don't feed it to my children, is that OK with you? As for sexual preference, measure me as you will, I have them too. =

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    1. like whatever you want, hopefully feed your children whats healthy , not what your personal preference is - don't force your likes on me or my children and don't demand that the school cafeteria never serve butterscotch pudding and don't demand a law banning people from eating butterscotch pudding - if you don't do any of the above then we can get right back to ignoring you and your likes.

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  5. Massimo - you posted this, not your relative, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you represented his position accurately.

    I don't think he's being irrational. I'm honestly surprised that so many professors of biology and philosophy can be blind to the issue of homosexual parenting. Unless I'm mistaken, your relative is alluding to a simple and convincing argument from natural human adaptation (he says "natural state")

    Kids do best with a masculine and feminine element in their upbringing. It would be the most amazing discovery of all time if it turned out that all the differences between men and women were arbitrary and/or totally irrelevant to a healthy family structure and successful child-rearing. It would undermine the credibility of evolutionary psychology.

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    1. I'm honestly surprised that so many professors of biology and philosophy can be blind to the issue of homosexual parenting.
      Did you miss massimo's response?

      M: Ok… Are these doubts based on factual evidence showing that children of gay couples develop psychological problems, or you just don’t like the idea?


      Kids do best with a masculine and feminine element in their upbringing.
      can you describe what you mean by this feminine/masculine element? (I guess I already know your answer - but it will help to have it on record)

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    2. Did you miss massimo's response?
      No. He says "Just because something is natural it doesn’t follow that it is right". This is true, obviously, but misses the nuances of what I *think* his relative is getting at.

      Are these doubts based on factual evidence showing that children of gay couples develop psychological problems, or you just don’t like the idea?
      At this point there is no large body of research that compares the psychological/behavioral health of children raised by same-sex parents vs. male and female. This isn't the kind of thing you're likely to get a grant for. There is the Regnerus study , which upset more than enough people.

      can you describe what you mean by this feminine/masculine element?
      Yes, absolutely. This, more than any one empirical finding, is the crux of my argument.
      There are chemical, biological, physiological, neurological, and psychological differences between men and women. I can link you to relevant research in any of those areas.

      Evolutionary psychologists explain so much of our behavior (Preference for sweet, fatty foods. Desire for certain physical traits in the opposite sex. Aesthetic preferences) with the principle that most of our species' history was spent on the African Savannah and thus most of our behavior is hardwired based on what helped our ancestors survive. "Modern skulls house a stone age mind" (Cosmides & Tooby)

      For the vast majority of our species' existence, children were raised in a configuration that included both male and female caregivers. This was and still is the case in every non-Western part of the world. Wouldn't it be something if this turned out to be reversible with no deleterious consequences?

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    3. @curio37

      The world is changing rapidly. It's nothing like how it was even hundreds of years ago. Homosexual child-rearing is only one of countless changes we haven't evolved to cope with, and yet we seem to be doing fine. You're cherry-picking homosexuality as something we should be worried about. Why not ready meals, the Internet, peace, security, international co-operation, science?

      Evolution has not selected for us to function in one particular limited time and place. It has selected for us to be adaptable and opportunistic. That's why we've conquered the planet and even extended our reach into space.

      >It would be the most amazing discovery of all time if it turned out that all the differences between men and women were arbitrary and/or totally irrelevant to a healthy family structure and successful child-rearing.<

      You're assuming that parents and the home environment have a big input on how kids turn out. This is far from certain.

      Steven Pinker in particular argues that genes are more important than everything else, and that as long as a child has a safe and comfortable home environment the parents are relatively uninfluential. Identical twins reared in entirely different homes often turn out to have very similar personalities, outlooks and preferences.

      There may be differences between males and females on average, but there are huge variances within the male and female populations. Some heterosexual parents may have the mother being more stereotypically male in behaviour than the father. As such, there is no reason for evolution to have selected for development of children to be so sensitive to this variation. Again, we are designed to be robust and adaptable.

      Even if we pretend that homosexuality didn't exist while we were evolving, I'm sure plenty of kids were raised by their mother and aunt, or their father and uncle, etc. There is no reason whatsoever to think that a father and mother are required.

      There are many examples of kids having been raised without equal male and female influences. There is no evidence whatsoever that this is harmful.

      Finally, there is no need to explain the difference between the "average" man and "average" woman by assuming these are needed for a healthy family structure. Even staying within evolutionary psychology, these can be explained by reference to the different levels of investment in reproduction.

      And that's not even mentioning cultural influences. There is no need to suppose that the differences are required for successful child-rearing. No "amazing discovery" required.

      >It would undermine the credibility of evolutionary psychology.<

      Plenty of people already find evopsych to be far from credible, particularly when it is applied as carelessly as you have in your post.

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    4. @Disagreable

      Why not ready meals, the Internet, peace, security, international co-operation, science?
      I actually wonder what the Internet's long-term effect will be on present and future generations. Hard to isolate that variable. Still, parenting is more fundamental. Most of our postnatal brain development takes place in the first three years of life. It's more likely (though not certain) that you'll be healthy and successful with a good and stable home environment. I'm suggesting that it's very likely that sex differences play a part.

      Steven Pinker in particular argues that genes are more important than everything else
      Though we now know through the study of epigenetics that environmental factors heavily influence gene expression. You've oversimplified the case of identical twns

      There are many examples of kids having been raised without equal male and female influences. There is no evidence whatsoever that this is harmful.

      Are there certain skills and behaviors that men can more easily teach their children? Is there knowledge that women are more capable of imparting to their children? It's utterly uncontroversial to answer 'yes'.

      Plenty of people already find evopsych to be far from credible, particularly when it is applied as carelessly as you have in your post.
      My point is that *if* something as ubiquitous as joint male-female parenting has no behavioral foundation in evopsych, *then* evopsych is not in the best position to explain less obvious facets of our behavior.



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    5. @curio37
      You mean the debunked study? Surely you know the problems with that one?
      There are chemical, biological, physiological, neurological, and psychological differences between men and women.
      sure . what does that have to do with "feminine" element? lets say for e.g. that physically, women are on average smaller than men.
      However I am a 100-125 pound weakling who cant run very fast - which implies most women can beat me up easy - does it follow that I am the feminine element in my marriage or that I should be?

      that you'll be healthy and successful with a good and stable home environment
      Ah this is the crux of the matter. What in a gay relationship suggests that they cant have a good and stable home environment? Nothing ! except that fundamentalist nuts keep trying to ensure that gay people don't have a good and stable environment by bullying and other forms of intimidation, violence, threats etc - thereby fulfilling their own prophecy..

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    6. According to this post, it is legal in Italy for a single parent to adopt, but not for a gay couple. Are you suggesting that being raised by two men (or women) is somehow worse for a child than being raised by one?

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    7. @curio37
      Epigenetics does not change the apparent truth that identical twins often turn out to be very similar even in different environments.

      In any case, I think if there were any strong effect from not having a standard "ideal" male/female set of parents, we would know by now. Millions or billions of people have been born in nonstandard circumstances, throughout our evolutionary history.

      If there is any detrimental effect, it is incredibly subtle. And on the basis of this you want to deny equal rights to millions of potential loving parents.

      The harm in denying the right to parent is clear. Any harm in allowing it is purely hypothetical and extremely subtle.

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    8. Deepak,

      Yea the "debunked" study. It's preliminary data. I alluded to the fact that we're going to have to wait a while before we get comprehensive empirical data on same-sex parenting.

      However I am a 100-125 pound weakling who cant run very fast
      Try and resistance and endurance training. I have friends who swear by this routine called p90x. Whatever that is.

      No, but really. You're cherry picking a silly example. I'm not sure if you have a child or not, but if you do - can you think of anything that your wife is able to give to him/her that you cannot? Would something be missing in his/her life if you were absent? Male and female initiation rites are found throughout the world, throughout time. There's a strong case to be made for analogous phenomenon in contemporary Western society, though they're usually much less grizzly.

      What in a gay relationship suggests that they cant have a good and stable home environment? Nothing !

      It seems likely to me that legalized same-sex marriage will produce a statistical increase in fidelity among same-sex couples. Time will tell how the average fares against different-sex marriages, though I might add it's equally uncontroversial to assert that divorce negatively affects children regardless of parent gender.

      Stability aside - it's still an open question whether this is a good arrangement. I'm suggesting that it's very unlikely, given our species evolutionary history, that same-sex parenting will not have unforeseen or negative consequences for children.

      except that fundamentalist nuts keep trying to ensure that gay people don't have a good and stable environment

      Mindreading me into a fundamentalist doesn't change anything. I've heard critics of Regnerus' study agree with his data but disagree with the conservative conclusions. Ie: Children with same-sex parents fair worse, but only because society oppresses them. What these critics have effectively done is immunized themselves from error and made their thesis unfalsifiable.

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    9. @ Disagreeable

      We've had a variety of conditions sure, but not widespread child-rearing by two members of the same sex. If there is no detrimental effect - evolution has given our species an arbitrary arrangement. The biological and psychological factors that result in gender differences were irrelevant to healthy human development this entire time. Does natural selection ever act so capriciously? (using poetic license here. anyone familiar with 'selfish genes' shouldn't mind)

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    10. @curio37
      It's preliminary data.
      Uh no it isnt - anymore than Andrew Wakefields vaccination "study" is preliminary data. Even the courts agree.
      You're cherry picking a silly example.
      To underscore a point. You can choose any attribute you like - other than genitalia , you'll probably find that the "masculine element" and the "feminine element" are nonsensical when applied to most relationships. Go on give me one example of feminine element in a marriage. I can almost bet I know one couple in a stable relationship where that element is reversed. As before Im assuming you wont say pregnancy or genitalia or some such biological truth.
      can you think of anything that your wife is able to give to him/her that you cannot?
      If push came to shove ?In principle - no. Why only parents? There are so many relatives who have passed away who my children will never know - So what? Are my children missing something ? Well yes and no. Don't use the obvious yes to make your point.
      Male and female initiation rites are found throughout the world, throughout time.
      Spare me the argument from tradition.
      I'm suggesting that it's very unlikely, given our species evolutionary history, that same-sex parenting will not have unforeseen or negative consequences for children.
      ha ha. Cool lets take away rights based on unforeseen or negative consequences that may or may not occur and for which no data is available based on what some person feels is "likely".
      Mindreading me into a fundamentalist doesn't change anything.
      I didnt - I merely pointed out that gay people face discrimination

      What these critics have effectively done is immunized themselves from error and made their thesis unfalsifiable.
      To prove your hypothesis you'd have to compare a stable straight relationship with a stable gay relationship (or prove that gay relationships are inherently unstable). You'd also have to prove that most gay relationships lead to problems for the children - not on average if you want to make any sort of case for denying them rights. If you don't consider stability then you can only prove correlation not causation .
      Assuming you are somehow able to do this - i'd still oppose the taking away of rights , on principle alone. Just as this personally i think raising children to be religious(within limits) is bad , but I'd oppose any attempt to take away that right from parents even if it were proved , empirically, that this is harmful.

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    11. @Deepak

      I'm actually assuming a shared premise - Hume's is/ought gap. My case is only for the near inevitability of male-female parenting being the better configuration for healthy child development. Not an argument for what public policy should or shouldn't be.

      As before Im assuming you wont say pregnancy or genitalia or some such biological truth.

      I often get the impression that our politically correct academics want to see men and women as blank neuter gender slates differentiated only by slightly different pelvic architecture.

      You asked for a non-trivial feminine element, i'll gladly give you one. Pregnant women undergo hormonal changes that, from an evolutionary point of view, are obviously linked with care for their young and lead generally to more secure attachment with offspring.

      So as to not be one-sided, let's look at the importance of fatherhood

      We know mothers and fathers are each important to the healthy development of children, but are their roles perfectly interchangeable? Everything from neurobiology to everyday observation screams "no", even if there are great differences between males and females respectively.

      Spare me the argument from tradition.

      I think my argument sums up as follows:

      Nature is not and has never been politically correct.

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    12. Pregnant women undergo hormonal changes that, from an evolutionary point of view, are obviously linked with care for their young and lead generally to more secure attachment with offspring.
      And some women get postpartum depression (in some cases harmful to themselves and their children)
      Adoptive parents wont ever go through this pregnancy stuff
      How in the world is this example related to parenting and masculine/feminine roles?

      Nature is not and has never been politically correct.
      Everything we do is by definition natural including supporting or opposing gay rights . And little we do is "natural" based on the definition of "natural" you are using. Dont blame nature for your shortcomings.

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    13. Nature is not and has never been politically correct.
      Lets assume free of all bias and cultural traditions and every other factor men are on average smarter than women in maths/science take your pick.
      Does it imply we ban women from working in Maths/Science?
      Does it imply that while hiring we don't consider women's resumes?
      Does it imply we spend more resources on men's education?

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    14. @Deepak

      Imagine you and a close male friend tie the knot. Imagine teaching your daughter about her first menstrual cycle, and helping her through the difficulties of adolescence. Be honest, set your biases aside, and tell me that this would just as easy without your wife's support.

      Tell me women don't generally have superior social intelligence to men? Some have even called autism a case of "extreme male brain" (S Baron Cohen). Once again, tell me it would be as easy to teach your son social etiquette with the assistance of another man rather than your wife.

      This really shouldn't be controversial, that's what I meant by my nature comment. The other prong of my argument refers to the prediction evolutionary theory makes about our adaptive behavior being difficult to alter. There's even a chapter in Massimo's book on the evolution of our irrationality.

      And yet, Massimo and others assume that this deeply rooted biological and cultural arrangement (male+female child-rearing) can be altered drastically with no observable difference.

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    15. Lets assume free of all bias and cultural traditions and every other factor men are on average smarter than women in maths/science take your pick.
      Does it imply we ban women from working in Maths/Science?
      Does it imply that while hiring we don't consider women's resumes?
      Does it imply we spend more resources on men's education?


      Science is fairly recent, much more recent than male-female unions or the practice of raising children. I'm reluctant to grant either the assumption or the analogy.

      I'd like to think that universities and research facilities employ based on qualifications, or scientific aptitude. There is no reason why this can't be gender-blind. Once orchestras started blind auditions the female-male ratio leveled out pretty quickly.

      On the other hand, families aren't subject to the sorts of rules that businesses, orchestras, or universities are. You don't get "fired" from parenthood for doing a less than perfect job. In the United States, it generally takes a severe case to warrant CPS intervention.

      As Disagreeable Me noted, the differences may be subtle, but that doesn't exclude them from being significant over time. Given our understanding of human history and behavior, it still strikes me as an astounding discovery that children would fare just as well with two loving men, as they would with a loving mother and father.

      Is there any other deeply rooted aspect of our psychology or culture that is just as arbitrary and subject to dramatic reversal or change? Many here would be quick to notice that the cultural vestige known as religion has been difficult to eliminate, even after years of scientific progress. Human nature is not infinitely malleable.

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    16. @curio37
      "Imagine teaching your daughter about her first menstrual cycle, and helping her through the difficulties of adolescence."

      This argument is irrelevant. If it did, it would widowed husbands should surrender their female kids or re-marry asap, same for widowed females with sons. Gay couples with a daughter can do exactly what a simgle parent would do: get help from their sister, mother or seek help from a counsellor.

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    17. Be honest, set your biases aside, and tell me that this would just as easy without your wife's support.
      Well I dread the day I have to bring up the topic of sex to my son and Ill be doing that with my wife's support too or perhaps she will have to bring it up with my support and I cant see what difference it makes that my wife is a woman or not. There are no fixed roles and we interchange responsibilities and roles quite often based on circumstances.
      You don't get "fired" from parenthood for doing a less than perfect job.
      But that is precisely what the relative R supports. R wants to disqualify certain people from being parents (in principle , wrong) and is doing so with the flimsiest of excuses (which you tried to do as well).
      he other prong of my argument refers to the prediction evolutionary theory makes about our adaptive behavior being difficult to alter.
      As far as I am aware human behavior has changed rapidly in the past hundred's of years (not just related to gay parenting) so I doubt it is due to evolutionary pressures since the time period is too short.

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    18. @curio27

      > evolution has given our species an arbitrary arrangement. The biological and psychological factors that result in gender differences were irrelevant to healthy human development this entire time.<

      Not at all. Male/female couples tend to raise children because male/female couples are those that can reproduce and have a genetic interest in their offspring. There's nothing arbitrary about it.

      In other words, the gender composition of parents throughout history has nothing to do with the "correct" developmental conditions for children but everything to do with biological reproduction.

      When we're talking about adopting, I see no reason to think that the gender makeup of the parents makes any difference.

      I have put to you the hypothesis that kids are resilient and robust, and can develop normally under a variety of conditions. Any great sensitivity to the precise characteristics of parents during development would be detrimental, as there is huge variation from person to person within genders. I can't think why evolution would select for children to be as brittle as you suppose.

      As I have said, and you have agreed, the supposed harm done by same-sex couples rearing children is so subtle as to be effectively undetectable. It is likely to be dwarfed by differences in parental education, wealth and love.

      Wouldn't you therefore agree that it would be better to place a child with a stable, loving, wealthy, educated gay couple than with a less stable, medium-income, high-school educated couple, or even worse, with an orphanage?

      And if so, wouldn't it make sense to allow same-sex adoption so as to leave that option open?

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    19. @curio37

      "Imagine teaching your daughter about her first menstrual cycle, and helping her through the difficulties of adolescence. Be honest, set your biases aside, and tell me that this would just as easy without your wife's support."

      Haha. In my relationship I teach my kids more about that sort of thing than my wife does (I think she's relieved). Just yesterday I explained menstruation to my 5 year old daughter (she asked about it). What is the problem, really?

      Ps. @deepak, the trick about teaching your kids about sex is making sure you do it in baby steps, then you won't get this massive sex talk that is embarrassing to everyone involved. For example my kids like reading books about the body and descriptions about how children grow in the womb, usually questions will arise about how everything happens, sometimes it might be good to ask a few leading questions. Then you also get to train in talking about these things, but you get to start with the easy part, the biology.

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    20. @curio 37 : So you imply that children rather be orphaned and unadopted than being adopted by two homosexual men? Even if children with homosexual parents fared worse than the ones with heterosexual parents (something that might be due to social pressure mostly, if at all), without question they fare better than orphans that don't get adopted.

      There are so many orphans (or abandoned) children that by denying homosexual parenting you're just taking away the chance of some of them to have a better future.

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    21. >In other words, the gender composition of parents throughout history has nothing to do with the "correct" developmental conditions for children but everything to do with biological reproduction.

      But there may be reason to suspect that men and women have specialized their roles in ways that make a male/female unit optimal for raising a child.

      However, then you say:

      >I have put to you the hypothesis that kids are resilient and robust, and can develop normally under a variety of conditions. Any great sensitivity to the precise characteristics of parents during development would be detrimental, as there is huge variation from person to person within genders. I can't think why evolution would select for children to be as brittle as you suppose.

      Which is spot on, I think. Even if gay couples are not on average as ideal for raising children as different-sex couples of the same education, wealth etc., the whole "optimal" vs "non-optimal" debate is happening at the margins of actual effects on kids.

      Given a relatively non-pathological upbringing, children will do fine. Argument about whether devoted straight parents are better than devoted gay parents are therefore somewhat like debating whether Buffalo is more tropical than Toronto.

      Delete
    22. @Johan
      Thanks for the advice :)
      In conservative countries like India such topics were rarely discussed by parents(in my time anyway) - they were more from peers and a solitary hour lecture (in total) in school

      Delete
    23. Curio,
      I wonder if you really care about the argument you are making, or if you don't just have a bias. I mean, let's do a thought experiment. What if there were a study that were incredibly well done and utterly convincing. What if this study showed that children of same sex marriage were BETTER off than children of heterosexual marriages? Would you then be willing to ban heterosexual marriage? I mean, if that is your primary concern, we'd expect you to become an anti hetero marriage activist, right? If not, then you aren't really arguing what you say you are arguing. And, btw, there are already some indications of that type of evidence. Of course it will never be clear cut, because despite what you think Steven Pinker says, a plurality of people and families and child raising styles is always going to be better.

      Delete
    24. OneDayMore,

      I'm just arguing for the likelihood of joint male-female parenting as the better arrangement on the basis of evolution and human history. If (not one, but) many studies confirmed that two women are better at raising a child than a man and woman, all other things being equal, I'd be astounded.

      My first thought would be - why haven't any human civilizations discovered this yet? We could have a healthier society! Further, why hasn't natural selection weeded out men in general? A recent study shows that the Y chromosome may not be as essential as once thought, as it can be reduced to just 2 genes.

      If two men are generally better able to raise children than a man and woman pair, why don't we see this arrangement in ancient societies or unindustrialized current societies?

      Time for me to ask you a hypothetical. What do you think the odds are that, on average, children raised by two gay men turn out as healthy and successful as children raised by two lesbian women?

      Delete
    25. @curio37

      When you're talking about gay parents adopting children, the same-sex versus different sex parents comparison isn't actually the most relevant comparison for the situation. Gay parents adopting children means more of the children who are put up for adoption are adopted. The most relevant comparison is this: is being raised by gay parents better or worse than not being adopted in the first place? Do you want more children to have parents or fewer children to have parents? If the answer is more, then allowing homosexual couples to adopt is the rational position, unless you actually think that being raised by gay parents is worse than never being adopted, which seems like a pretty extreme claim to me.

      Delete
    26. researchtobedone,

      If we agree "more children being adopted" is good, then we should all be working to make the process less expensive and less bureaucratic. These factors are huge adoption disincentives!

      A few people in these comments have conceded that its better, all other things being equal, for biological parents to raise a child. I agree that being adopted is better than living in an orphanage. Children need families.

      I'm still not bringing public policy into this argument. Only saying that children adopted by a married man and woman are likely to fare better. Evolution has conditioned us to thrive best with this arrangement, not a two-man or two-woman child rearing team.

      Delete
  6. @ Massimo

    > Just because something is natural it doesn’t follow that it is right. <

    Are there any natural events that are wrong?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nature has nothing to do with morality. Murder is natural. Rape is natural. So is love and altruism. The natural and moral are entirely orthogonal concerns.

      Delete
    2. @ Disageeable Me

      > Rape is natural. So is love and altruism. <

      So, if rape is natural (and nature itself has nothing whatsoever to do with morality), then rape can neither be right or wrong. Right? Or, wrong?

      Delete
    3. @Alastair

      >So, if rape is natural (and nature itself has nothing whatsoever to do with morality), then rape can neither be right or wrong. Right? Or, wrong?<

      Wrong.

      Car analogy:

      I'm saying the colour of a car has no bearing on how heavy it is. Your response is that this means that a red car can neither be light nor heavy. This is clearly a non sequitur.

      Delete
    4. @ Disagreeable Me

      > Wrong. <

      Why do you say "wrong?" Where exactly is the flaw in my logic?

      Human behavior (whether it be selfish or altruistic) is natural behavior. Right?

      Natural behavior is neither morally right nor morally wrong. Right?

      Therefore, human behavior (whether it be selfish or altruistic) is neither morally right nor morally wrong. Right?

      Delete
    5. >Natural behavior is neither morally right nor morally wrong. Right?<

      Red cars are neither heavy nor light. Right?

      Wrong.

      Delete
    6. @ Disagreeable Me

      I will take this as your way of recanting your earlier statement, You apparently now see that nature has something to do with morality. Obviously morality evolved as an evolutionary adaptation.

      Delete
    7. Hi Alastair,

      I'm not recanting at all. I'm saying that what is natural is orthogonal to what is moral, the way the colour of a car is orthogonal to how heavy it is. The two are completely independent. They have nothing to do with each other.

      So "natural behaviour is neither morally right nor morally wrong" doesn't make sense. Some natural behaviour is right and some is wrong. Whether behaviour is natural has no bearing on it.

      Now, this is all to clarify what I meant by the two being orthogonal.

      I would actually agree that morality evolved as an evolutionary adaptation, and so nature does indeed have something to do with morality in this sense. Yet whether something is natural remains orthogonal to whether it is moral.

      Just one final point to clarify my position in case it seems to contradict what I have said on other posts: I am not a moral realist. I don't think objective morality exists. However I have my own moral preferences, and society as a whole does to. For the purposes of this conversation, what is morally right or wrong is what I personally or my society as a whole deems to be right or wrong. This is not to be construed as endorsing objective morality.

      Delete
    8. It is irrational to say that natural things are right because they are natural. The quality of being "natural" has no bearing on the morality of the act. Any action in life can either be moral or immoral, regardless of it being natural or not.

      Besides, what is "natural"? Something that happens in nature, i. e. pretty much everything. You could change "natural" by "evolutionary adaptive", but since our behaviour is also evolutionary adaptive, we can do anything that goes against our genes wishes without worrying about it being "immoral". Is shaving immoral? No, so neither is homosexual parenting.

      Delete
    9. @ Disagreeable Me

      Me: "Are there ANY natural events that are wrong?"

      You: "Nature has nothing to do with morality."

      > So "natural behaviour is neither morally right nor morally wrong" doesn't make sense. Some natural behaviour is right and some is wrong. Whether behaviour is natural has no bearing on it. <

      So, now you are changing your tune. You are now affirming that "SOME natural behavior [are] right and SOME [are] wrong."

      > I would actually agree that morality evolved as an evolutionary adaptation, and so nature does indeed have something to do with morality in this sense. <

      This is another retraction. You are now acknowledging that morality is an evolutionary adaptation. Therefore, nature has something to do with morality.

      > Yet whether something is natural remains orthogonal to whether it is moral. <

      Wrong. Unless you believe that moral evolution is no longer a natural phenomenon.

      > For the purposes of this conversation, what is morally right or wrong is what I personally or my society as a whole deems to be right or wrong. This is not to be construed as endorsing objective morality. <

      Then you're a moral relativist by default.

      Delete
    10. Hi Alastair,

      No, I'm retracting nothing and I'm not changing my tune. You're just not understanding me.

      >[Alastair]: "Are there ANY natural events that are wrong?"

      [DM]: "Nature has nothing to do with morality."<

      You forgot to mention that I listed rape and murder as natural. I didn't spell out that these are wrong, because I assume we all agree on that.

      "Nature has nothing to do with morality" can be interpreted in two ways.

      One way might be to interpret as being a denial of the naturalistic fallacy - just because something is natural does not mean it is moral, in fact it has no bearing on it. This interpretation should be clear from context, and from repeated clarifications.

      The other interpretation is "Natural evolution has nothing to do with the orgin or explanation of morality". It was never my intention to express this view, as I disagree with it.

      >So, now you are changing your tune. You are now affirming that "SOME natural behavior [are] right and SOME [are] wrong."<

      This is not changing my tune. This has always been my view.

      >This is another retraction. You are now acknowledging that morality is an evolutionary adaptation. Therefore, nature has something to do with morality.<

      Yes. My original wording could have been clearer. I was not discussing the orgin of our morality but discussing whether "natural" situations are morally preferable to "unnatural" situations. But this has always been my view.

      >Wrong. Unless you believe that moral evolution is no longer a natural phenomenon.<

      No, it's not wrong. Just because nature explains the origin of morality does not mean that what is natural is good and what is unnatural is bad. Plenty of natural things are bad and plenty of unnatural things are good, but the way we assign these values can be explained in terms of evolution. There is no contradiction there.

      >Then you're a moral relativist by default.<

      Almost but not precisely. Moral relativism as usually construed withholds judgement on others because they don't have the same moral standards. We can't condemn Jefferson for owning slaves, because it was a different time. We can't condemn the practice of female genital circumcision in other countries because it's another culture.

      This is not my attitude. I'm a moral relativist but I stand by my values and will judge others according to them. I don't think my values are any more objectively correct but I stand by them and would fight to advance them if need be. I think FGM is wrong. I think slave owning is wrong. The context doesn't matter to me.

      Delete
    11. @ DM

      > One way might be to interpret as being a denial of the naturalistic fallacy - just because something is natural does not mean it is moral, in fact it has no bearing on it. This interpretation should be clear from context, and from repeated clarifications <

      To reiterate: I never argued for an "appeal to nature" (the fallacy is known as an "appeal to nature," not the "naturalistic fallacy). I simply asked Massimo a question - a question that apparently caused you to take a hissy fit.

      > I was not discussing the [origin] of our morality but discussing whether "natural" situations are morally preferable to "unnatural" situations. But this has always been my view. <

      Every behavior is a natural behavior. (Every event that happens in the world is a natural event. The only possible exception to this is a supernatural event. But I am assuming that you do not believe in supernatural events.)

      > No, it's not wrong. Just because nature explains the origin of morality does not mean that what is natural is good and what is unnatural is bad. Plenty of natural things are bad and plenty of unnatural things are good, but the way we assign these values can be explained in terms of evolution. There is no contradiction there. <

      To reiterate: Everything that happens is natural and therefore relevant to morality. It is relevant because evolution (of which morality is a part) is an ongoing affair.

      > This is not my attitude. I'm a moral relativist but I stand by my values and will judge others according to them. <

      That's what I said. You're a moral relativist.

      Delete
    12. @Alastair

      I think this whole conversation has been one big misinterpretation.

      Yes, everything is natural if we don't believe in supernatural.

      However, with reference to the debate on homosexual child-rearing, we don't mean natural as opposed to supernatural, we mean natural as opposed to artificial.

      The views of those who oppose homosexual child-rearing arise from a belief that this is an unnatural state of affairs. This is not because they think it is supernatural.

      As such, your bringing natural as in naturalism into the discussion has been a big red herring. Naturalism/supernaturalism has nothing to do with it.

      So with that in mind, all I and Massimo are saying is that whether something is natural or artificial/unnatural has nothing to do with whether it is good or not.

      And if you don't accept the natural/artificial distinction, that's fine. I'm not sure I do either. But those who are anti same-sex child-rearing do, and that's why we are arguing that even if there is a valid natural/artificial distinction, it's not relevant to morality.

      Are we agreed?

      Delete
    13. @ Disagreeable Me

      > I think this whole conversation has been one big misinterpretation <

      Agreed.

      Delete
  7. R: You always approach things rationally. But there are also such things as emotions.
    Apparently only straight people who also oppose gay marriage have emotions

    ReplyDelete
  8. Massimo: I don't just think that you're arguments are stronger (or more compelling) than R's; I feel that they are.

    That's just how we humans work (i.e. emotionally), including those of us who know how to practice critical thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Having spaces for only two parents on the form discriminates against polygamists.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "it is aimed at making non-traditional families feel included"

    Some people feel strongly that's important, and they react emotionally when you tell them it's not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheapness is a factor here too. Demanding that society spend a billion dollars to make a minority of 0.000001% feel included is quantitatively different from spending 5 minutes in Microsoft Word to make a minority of 1% (or something in that range) feel included.

      Delete
  11. Truth springs from argument amongst friends. But not necessarily amongst relatives...

    Sometimes I believe a certain social distance is beneficial for the quality of the dialogue. Too close and unbridled displicence will overcome polite sincereness; too afar and unconstrained anonimity will dissolve any kind of intelectual honesty.

    Sometimes I believe that that there is nothing more for two citizens to talk about than politics (what else!?), since it is the very core of a civilized society. Sometimes I just want to sit there in silence and let them babble...

    I wish I were like Socrates, because alcohol usually doesn't help.

    ReplyDelete
  12. It sounds like R is worried that the special status of the biological family is being lost in measures to make institutional language more inclusive. While I think this worry is misguided, I don't think all of the values that might motivate this are.

    It seems efforts to articulate what is special about the biological family often quickly get lost in fallacies regarding the natural or the traditional. I think a sound way to explain the special status of the biological family is in terms of the presumable preferences of children. Other things being equal, would a child prefer to be adopted or not, or to know their natural parents or not? I think the answers are obvious. Given this, same-sex adoptive families are in principle less ideal than biological families, as they involve lesser-preferred states-of-affairs from the child's point of view relative to biological families. In the practical realm, however, adoption by a same-sex couple can be a child's salvation, which suggests why actual good cohesive families of any kind should be valued equally by society.

    It may be that what bothers some with positions like R's is less issues with same-sex couples than with the sense that generally unfortunate states-of-affairs like adoption and not knowing one's natural parents are being normalized, and hence that the values of an intact biological family are being reduced to arbitrary preferences. As I doubt that many proponents of equality for same-sex-parent families hold these views, it seems the disagreement might have more to do with misunderstandings than with root differences of belief.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your take on this. Don't know if you're right, but it's certainly a plausible hypothesis and I'm all for giving others the benefit of the doubt.

      Delete
    2. >It may be that what bothers some with positions like R's is less issues with same-sex couples than with the sense that generally unfortunate states-of-affairs like adoption and not knowing one's natural parents are being normalized, and hence that the values of an intact biological family are being reduced to arbitrary preferences. As I doubt that many proponents of equality for same-sex-parent families hold these views, it seems the disagreement might have more to do with misunderstandings than with root differences of belief.

      Yes, this is a good steelman of the social conservative position. In fact sometimes it seems to me that progressives really DO want to treat intact biological families as a "mere preference", perhaps even a suspiciously reactionary one. Certainly it is not high on the policy priority list.

      Delete
    3. special status of the biological family
      I have always wondered why a biological family should have special status. As such if I discover today that my parents are not my biological parents , I wouldn't care (beyond a little bit of curiosity). or If I found my child isnt my biological child it wouldn't matter to me, now either - the bonds are already formed. I also find it odd that people think their family is more special than parents who adopt.

      Delete
    4. the special status of the biological family is in terms of the presumable preferences of children.

      The expression biological family is confusing; an extended family, a community, and kith and kin in general are all 'biological family' (and the nuclear family doesn't necessarily hold up as a better place for a child to flourish in).

      Other things being equal, would a child prefer to be adopted or not, or to know their natural parents or not? I think the answers are obvious

      I think it is not at all obvious, and as far as I can tell children do not care if they are adopted as long as others do not care, and it can be argued that it's the cultural presumption, that children prefer to not be adopted, that causes a lot of adopted children to suffer when they 'find out' they were adopted. Just the existence of the idea that we might wait for the right time to tell a child they are adopted reflects our negative cultural presumptions not theirs (and obviously children, or anybody, don't like to be stigmatized or said to be lacking, especially in some fundamental way).

      Similarly gay or bisexual adolescents are comfortable with who they are insofar as others also have no problem with who they are.

      Delete
  13. This all said, contra a Chris Mooney, liberals can and do engage in "motivated reasoning" just like conservatives, and basically, just as often. That starts with Mooney himself; his "Republican Brain" is largely pop neuroscience.

    And, I'm not just talking about antivaxxers. I'm talking about liberals overworried about GMOs (ignoring corporate concerns with Monsanto), liberals who simply will not discuss nuclear power, and now, from what I see on Facebook, Obamiac types claiming the federal exchange's website problems aren't due to buggy software, but to deliberate, politically-driven DDoS attacks.

    A few of my thoughts on Mooney here: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2012/10/whats-wrong-with-chris-mooneys.html

    ReplyDelete
  14. Massimo,

    Let us try to rationally speak about the presumed irrationality in you fictional dialogue:
    «...
    R: But the law doesn’t recognize gay parents.
    M: But it should, right?
    R: The natural state is that of a mother and a father.
    M: Just because something is natural it doesn’t follow that it is right. Poisonous mushrooms are natural too, for instance… And incidentally, the family based on a heterosexual married couple is not natural at all, it is a recent cultural invention. Perhaps we should have tribes of 40-50 relatives raise kids instead? That was the natural state of things back in the Pleistocene.
    R: You always approach things rationally. But there are also such things as emotions.»

    You (M) claim that the law should recognize gay parents (like an unexplainable brute fact, based on no objective grounds, supported by no arguments, as gay people, as such, cannot be parents, they exclude themselves from that possibility), as if one should accept this as self-evident. Well is it self-evident? I guess not.
    After you claim that we must not rely on human nature do determine what is acceptable or not for humans to do. For me it is not clear what is your basis for morality besides human nature (but I sure it is not the desires of God).
    Finally R (without any justification besides his own impression) concedes that your approach is rational (as compared to what?). I guess you mustn’t take it too seriously, he is just being nice to you.

    It appears to me that the validation of what we count as acceptable (and correct) doesn’t count as a definition of rationality (or of anything for that matter).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Vasco,

      I really don't think you're being fair to Massimo. Massimo isn't simply asserting that it is self-evident that the law should allow gay adoption. As he stated, his relative is "about [his] age, self-professed politically progressive", and so Massimo evidently had the assumption that his relative would have similar progressive views to himself. He was simply surprised that his relative did not agree with him on the what the law should be.

      His relative then proposes an argument against gay adoption based on the naturalistic fallacy, which of course Massimo objects to.

      Massimo was never asked to present a positive case for gay adoption so he didn't. That doesn't mean that there is no such case to be made.

      >It appears to me that the validation of what we count as acceptable (and correct) doesn’t count as a definition of rationality (or of anything for that matter).<

      That's true to a point, but it is nevertheless possible to hold irrational values, as may be the case if your values are inconsistent or predicated on irrational beliefs. This seems to me to be the case with Massimo's relative.

      Delete
    2. Disagreeble,

      Let me get you correctly you are claiming that for one to be considered "politically progressive" one has to endorse gay co-adoption?

      His that it?

      I really fail to see what do you mean by "rational believes" in this context (except if you refer those that differ from yours).

      Delete
    3. >Let me get you correctly you are claiming that for one to be considered "politically progressive" one has to endorse gay co-adoption?<

      Not necessarily, but there is a significant correlation between identifying as politically progressive and endorsing gay co-adoption. As always, when a strong correlation is violated then surprise usually results.

      But this is also not a stranger Massimo was talking to. Once you get to know someone well you often feel you can predict their views on a certain topic. Massimo's prediction regarding his relative failed in this case, that's all.

      >I really fail to see what do you mean by "rational believes" in this context (except if you refer those that differ from yours).<

      Beliefs consistent with the evidence and with logic.

      Delete
    4. @Vasco Gama: So you want Massimo to write an entire essay about gay rights (something that has been done to the death), before stating that gays have rights?

      Delete
    5. Disagreeble,
      I would say then that we mostly agree, however I fail to recognize the correlation between "political progressivity" and morality (or with the problem of the gay adoption).
      And surely agree with you that rational believes are based on evidence and logic (or reason), and its rationality has nothing to do with the agreement with our personal believes (although one seems to be inclined to think so, as anyone is supposed to be rational being, and our presumption is just our presumption).

      buttheadrulesagain,
      I don’t want Massimo to write an essay about gay rights, gays do have rights as anyone else, and no one is pretending to deny their rights.

      Delete
    6. @Vasco gama
      Let me get you correctly you are claiming that for one to be considered "politically progressive" one has to endorse gay co-adoption?
      To be politically progressive you have to be against any form of discrimination. Race , Gender, Sexual orientation whatever . You don't get to discriminate against one type and still label yourself as progressive.

      Delete
    7. But then the thing is how to define discrimination, and what is to discriminate on the basis of" race, gender and sexual orientation". Is it reasonable to recognize that "race, gender and sexual orientation" don't exist or that they are just illusions, or that it is meaningless and one must be indifferent to it (in spite of the evidence of reality that says otherwise, that people do have ethnic origins, cultures, that people are either male or female, and that people can choose between a large variety of sexual behaviours), is that a condition to be politically progressive?
      I guess you are just oversimplifying the question.

      Delete
  15. downquark,

    > What you are identifying is just standard political dialogue. <

    No, what I rendered here is no dialogue at all. The analogy with the Tea Party is simply because they have become the contemporary paragon of political irrationality, but yes, of course there are irrational progressives — my relative being one of them.

    fascinating,

    > I regard emotional responses as opinions, albeit not rational ones. <

    Well, it depends on what you mean by “opinion.” To my thinking an opinion is always something thought for reasons (they can be bad reasons, but still). I think what R displayed here are preferences, rather than opinions. Indeed, when asked to defend his “opinions” rationally he was unable to do so.

    curio,

    > Kids do best with a masculine and feminine element in their upbringing. <

    The available evidence doesn’t seem to support your statement. And more importantly, as I state in the post, the “natural” state for human beings is to raise children in a communal group made of mostly relatives. Yet R wasn’t interested in reverting to Pleistocene parenting just because it’s “natural.”

    > It would undermine the credibility of evolutionary psychology. <

    What credibility?

    Alastair,

    > Are there any natural events that are wrong? <

    DM has already trashed you on this one. I keep wondering why I bother answering your questions.

    mufi,

    > I don't just think that you're arguments are stronger (or more compelling) than R's; I feel that they are. <

    Indeed, but your (or mine, or R’s) feelings count for little unless we are able to articulate why such feelings are justified. Especially when such feelings aren’t about which flavor of ice cream we are about to order, but rather affect the lives of potentially millions of other people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @ Massimo

      > DM has already trashed you on this one. I keep wondering why I bother answering your questions. <

      Au contraire. DM has now acknowledged that morality is an evolutionary adaptation. Thus, he is now affirming that nature has something to do with morality. He now believes that some natural behaviors are morally right and some are morally wrong, depending on the context (a.k.a. "moral relativism"). (I'm surprised to learn that a professor of evolutionary biology thinks otherwise.)

      Delete
    2. @Alastair

      >I'm surprised to learn that a professor of evolutionary biology thinks otherwise.<

      I think you'll find that Massimo agrees with most of that (probably not moral relativism).

      The naturalistic fallacy Massimo raised has nothing to do with the origins of morality. That's a completely separate question.

      Delete
    3. @ Disagreeable Me

      > The naturalistic fallacy Massimo raised has nothing to do with the origins of morality. That's a completely separate question <

      I never argued that it did. That being said, Massimo is conflating the "naturalistic fallacy" with the fallacious "appeal to nature" (they're not identical).

      Delete
    4. Agreed. And I have been doing the same. Apologies.

      Delete
  16. Paul,

    > While I think this worry is misguided, I don't think all of the values that might motivate this are. <

    Perhaps not. But R has utterly failed to explain what those values might be or way they should be taken seriously.

    > Other things being equal, would a child prefer to be adopted or not, or to know their natural parents or not? <

    But in most (all?) the cases under discussion that child’s alternative isn’t his biological family, or a better alternative than gay adoption, as you point out.

    > what bothers some with positions like R's is less issues with same-sex couples than with the sense that generally unfortunate states-of-affairs like adoption and not knowing one's natural parents are being normalized, and hence that the values of an intact biological family are being reduced to arbitrary preferences. <

    Knowing R, you may be correct. But what astounded me was the utter inability of an intelligent, non bigoted, person to probe into his own reasons, or of entertain a different point of view in a non dismissive fashion.

    Vasco,

    > You (M) claim that the law should recognize gay parents (like an unexplainable brute fact, based on no objective grounds, supported by no arguments, as gay people, as such, cannot be parents, they exclude themselves from that possibility), as if one should accept this as self-evident. <

    That’s because R actually agrees with that stament, so I didn’t have to make a special argument in its favor.

    > For me it is not clear what is your basis for morality besides human nature <

    I thought you had spent enough time at RS to have a good idea of my views on ethics and metaethics.

    > It appears to me that the validation of what we count as acceptable (and correct) doesn’t count as a definition of rationality (or of anything for that matter). <

    Ehm, no. Your point?

    Francisco,

    > Sometimes I believe a certain social distance is beneficial for the quality of the dialogue. <

    Yes, there is something to that. But it becomes particularly frustrating when it is about someone you care deeply.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Massimo,

      Maybe you know better than me, but his response:

      «R: The natural state is that of a mother and a father.»

      shows that he thinks otherwise (or at least that he has reserves on that matter and somehow holds to natural law ), however I can't argue about the coherence of his thought.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Massimo,

      I will have to add that in spite of you considering your fictional dialogue an illustration of “irrationality”, what it appears to me is that R is just avoiding to argue with you (I wouldn’t consider that as irrationality, maybe he is just afraid to argue with you, because he somehow feels that he can’t beat you on that, and he simply doesn’t want to evaluate his believes.
      (corrected response )

      Delete
  17. Interesting dialogue. Yes, attempts at real-world reasoned discourse rarely go as one would want them to, do they? (I wish they could be like Socratic dialogues. "Yes, Socrates! Truly, I see now the correctness of your view. You've got me there, O Socrates!")

    Maybe I am just over-influenced by Robin Hanson et al, but I think your dialogue may make more sense to you psychologically if you re-read it while thinking about issues of signalling and status.

    First, does R have a child near high school age? Maybe the disconnect between his nominally progressive views and his opinion on this issue is a <a href="http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/06/near-far-summary.html>near/far disconnect</a>? In other words, maybe he is okay with progressive ideals in a sort of abstract sense, but not so much when it impinges even trivially on him as a parent or on his kid? Just a guess.

    Second, and I think this point is stronger, consider his various violations of formal reason as face-saving measures. His opinion having been voiced on this topic, to concede he was wrong is a loss of status for him. This is why nobody ever changes their mind mid-disagreement - it would involve too much submission to one's interlocutor.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hey who turned the lights on? =

    ReplyDelete
  19. R's comment "You always approach things rationally" isn't correct and I think it would be helpful for you to point that out. First you experienced the emotions of compassion and empathy, then you found the arguments to support them.

    ReplyDelete
  20. @ Massimo

    > Notice, for instance, how R repeatedly commits the naturalistic fallacy, arguing that if X is natural therefore X must be good. <

    Just FYI. You're conflating the "naturalistic fallacy" with the fallacious "appeal to nature." (They're two separate fallacies).

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    1. Alastair,

      I told you several time not to teach philosophy to a philosopher using Wikipedia entries. The appeal to nature is based on the naturalistic fallacy. So one is simply the argument based on the fallacy. R was presenting the "argument," thereby committing the fallacy.

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    2. I think Alastair is actually right on this one, Massimo.

      I've been using your definition of naturalistic fallacy all along, but it seems that Alastair is correct, and what you and I mean is the appeal to nature.

      According to the SEP:

      "Moore famously claimed that naturalists were guilty of what he called the “naturalistic fallacy.” In particular, Moore accused anyone who infers that X is good from any proposition about X's natural properties of having committed the naturalistic fallacy. Assuming that being pleasant is a natural property, for example, someone who infers that drinking beer is good from the premise that drinking beer is pleasant is supposed to have committed the naturalistic fallacy. The intuitive idea is that evaluative conclusions require at least one evaluative premise—purely factual premises about the naturalistic features of things do not entail or even support evaluative conclusions. Moore himself focused on goodness, but if the argument works for goodness then it seems likely to generalize to other moral properties."

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-non-naturalism/

      Also check:
      http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Naturalistic_fallacy.html

      So the naturalistic fallacy has to do with philosophical naturalism and is not the same thing as the appeal to nature. Sam Harris is committing the naturalistic fallacy by thinking he can explain moral truths with science.

      Now, perhaps there's more than one interpretation of "naturalistic fallacy", but Wikipedia, Princeton and SEP all seem to agree with Alastair. Is there a source that uses your interpretation, Massimo? In any case it may be better to use "appeal to nature" in future to avoid confusion.

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    3. DM,

      sorry, but I don't see anything in the SEP quote that contradicts what I said above. Notice that I didn't say they are the same thing, I said R incurred in both (one by implication).

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    4. Hi Massimo,

      I may have been over-hasty in criticising you without addressing your point as I was surprised to learn that *I* had an incorrect understanding of the naturalistic fallacy.

      You may have a point that the appeal to nature is based on the naturalistic fallacy, but it is far from clear that this is what you mean in your general usage. The naturalistic fallacy could also be taken as a basis for many other attitudes about morality. Again, Harris is an example, though he does not appeal to nature.

      So you should still say "appeal to nature" to be more precise, in my view. I certainly got the wrong idea about what "naturalistic fallacy" means, and I think my incorrect interpretation arose from your usage of the term.

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    5. @ Massimo

      > I told you several time not to teach philosophy to a philosopher using Wikipedia entries. The appeal to nature is based on the naturalistic fallacy. So one is simply the argument based on the fallacy. R was presenting the "argument," thereby committing the fallacy <

      I like Wikipedia. (It democratizes information.) Of course, no source is prefect. But I see no reason to reject it on this point. (It's documented.)

      ""In philosophical ethics, the term "naturalistic fallacy" was introduced by British philosopher G. E. Moore in his 1903 book Principia Ethica.[1] Moore argues it would be fallacious to explain that which is good reductively, in terms of natural properties such as "pleasant" or "desirable".

      The naturalistic fallacy is close to but not identical with the fallacious appeal to nature, the claim that what is natural is inherently good or right, and that what is unnatural is inherently bad or wrong.
      " (souce: Wikipedia: Naturalistic fallacy)

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    6. Ok guys, if we really want to be precise then we need to distinguish three things: a) Hume's original formulation of the is-ought problem; b) Moore's naturalistic fallacy; and c) the fallacy of appeal to nature.

      However, the three are very deeply related, so much so that even most professional philosophers use them interchangeably.

      One way to think about the differences is this: a) Hume's guillotine (as it is sometimes referred) is really a warning not to slip from talk about facts to talk about values, at least not without making clear why the transition has been made. b) Moore's fallacy plays into his so-called "open question," which bars attempts to equate moral goodness with non-moral properties. c) The appeal to nature is simply what people do when they ignore Hume's is-ought divide, or when they bypass Moore's question.

      I hope this clarifies things a bit.

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    7. Hi Massimo,

      One last thing I would like to clarify on this.

      Would you agree that there are plenty of other ways to commit the naturalistic fallacy without appealing to nature?

      I think both Harris and Carrier are examples of this. Would you agree with me?

      And if this is true, don't you think it would be clearer not to use the terms interchangeably, at least for a lay audience that might get confused?

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    8. No, I don't agree. Even Harris and Carrier appeal to nature, in the specific sense that they think moral facts are empirical facts about nature. I agree that this is a different instantiation of the fallacy from what R engaged in, but the fundamental mistake (confusing is and ought) is the same.

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    9. Yes, it's arguably the same underlying fallacy. But it's not the appeal to nature.

      "Even Harris and Carrier appeal to nature, in the specific sense that they think moral facts are empirical facts about nature"

      This specific sense you argue for is not what "appeal to nature" is generally taken to mean.

      The generally understood meaning of "appeal to nature" is, very specifically, saying something is good because it is natural. Harris and Carrier do not do this. Nor do their professed beliefs at all reflect an attitude sympathetic to the appeal to nature.

      So I think it's appropriate to describe Harris and Carrier as committing the naturalistic fallacy, but it's better to describe R as appealing to nature (although the case could be made that he is also committing the naturalistic fallacy by implication).

      Which is why I think the terms should be kept distinct.

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    10. @DM

      I think the relevant distinction is between entailment and equivalence. An "appeal to nature" claims that a certain moral fact is entailed by a certain natural fact. Moore apparently used the term "naturalistic fallacy" to refer to the claim that moral facts are equivalent to certain natural facts. That's the view taken by moral naturalists like Harris and Carrier. If we take Moore's usage as definitive, then Massimo used the wrong term.

      However, language evolves, and we don't have to remain forever committed to Moore's specific usage. It seems that the term "naturalistic fallacy" is now widely used in the sense that Massimo used it. Wikipedia mentions this usage, and even attributes it to Steven Pinker. In a sense, language is what language does, and we have to move with the times.

      True, accepting this usage means the loss of a certain linguistic distinction which was of some use. But not that much use in my opinion. Anyway, that's life. Or perhaps I should say: that's language.

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    11. @Richard Wein

      In that case you and Massimo are probably right. I only did a cursory look at Wikipedia, SEP and princeton, and Moore's definition seemed to be the prevailing one.

      If in actual fact usage has shifted to the point where "appeal to nature" and "naturalistic fallacy" are interchangeable, then I have no problem with that.

      But that's wasn't Massimo's main defence. He argued that the appeal to nature implied the naturalistic fallacy, which I don't think really works as it fails to distinguish between R and Harris/Carrier.

      I'm also not 100% convinced that the appeal to nature necessarily implies the naturalistic fallacy, since I'm not sure that "natural" is in fact a naturalistic property. You can't detect or quantify the "naturalness" of an object or state of affairs.

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    12. @DM

      I would agree that the word "natural" is being used in two different senses. One who appeals to "nature" is likely to be opposing "nature" to "nurture", or something broadly like that. So, for example, he is likely to appeal to two-sex couples being "natural" on the grounds that he thinks that the tendency towards two-sex coupling is innate (possibly as a result of natural selection or divine design). The appeal might be broader than this, and include such "natural" facts as laws of physics, but the important thing is that it excludes behaviour resulting from individual proclivities (in some sense).

      When the moral naturalist claims that moral facts are "natural" facts, his point seems to be that moral facts are not supernatural or in any other way weird, but are relatively prosaic facts about reality, such as facts about how to achieve some state of affairs (such as well-being or happiness). The moral naturalist would not see behaviour resulting from individual proclivities as failing to be "natural" in the sense that he's interested in.

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    13. @DM

      P.S. The moral naturalist may not even use the word "natural" in this way; expressions like "moral facts are natural facts" may be used by someone describing the position, rather than by the moral naturalist himself. Regardless, if the word "natural" is used in that context, it is likely to be applied to facts or properties, while the one who appeals to nature is likely to apply the word "natural" to behaviours.

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    14. @Richard

      Yeah, that's basically my take on it too, although I think you would agree that the appeal to nature also goes beyond behaviours. Certain foods, materials, environments etc are also preferred because they are "natural".

      So I don't think the sense of "nature" in the appeal to nature is so tied to excluding individual proclivities. It's not nature vs nurture, it's nature vs modern artificiality. The appeal to nature betrays a faux nostalgia for some idealised fiction of a past form of existence. You see this kind of thing in fads such as the paleo diet and in ideas such as the noble savage.

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  21. Massimo: "I find the above exchange deeply saddening and depressing. Here I am, devoting my life to engaging people in reasonable discourse, and I can’t even get a simple and relatively uncontroversial point across with someone who broadly agrees with my worldview (e.g., R is an atheist, and politically leaning left, as I said), and who cares deeply for me."

    Having been in similar situations, as I think most of us have, Massimo has my sympathies. Even had he pointed out the act of procreation, more so than parenting, lends itself to the sort of argument his relative attempts to make, it is likely his relative would have persisted in his belief/value. The simple truth is that many of our core values or beliefs do not have a basis that was reached in any deduction or logical fashion. They have been reached or accepted, correctly or incorrectly, on the basis of personal experience or through affiliation with certain institutions or groups.

    All the talk about logical fallacies is beside the point. Anyway in this case, the relative is at most guilty of an "informal" logical fallacy and further only when Massimo presses the point and asks the relative to justify his position. He would probably have preferred to be left alone. He certainly doesn't appear to be interested in either Massimo's arguments or his own beliefs.

    I have listened to people argue this parenting question time and time again. It is apparent that those who argue for the male/female mix only have some vague notion of an "ideal" set of parents. They never deal with real world situations that arise such as unwed teenage mothers, divorce, orphans, or siblings who become de facto parents because of the deficiencies of the real parents, mixed or otherwise.

    Having lost a few friendships because of such discussions, I don't really engage in them unless asked by someone. I just chalk these things up to disagreements and regret that our inability to discuss them openly has impoverished the relationship.

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  22. Oh, I forgot to mention Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall." A very wise poem that focuses on this sort of thing. Highly recommended.

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  23. My way of thinking, as always, would not to look especially to the 'rational' or 'natural' approach to this, but to the 'pragmatical'.
    plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatism

    "We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank."
    Richard Rorty
    books.google.com/books/about/Rorty_and_His_Critics.html?id=ls8y52IpkDkC

    (And Richard Rorty is still my favorite philosopher.)

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    1. This implies that the homosexual lifestyle is chosen just as is the Jewish lifestyle. So we agree that both are choices?

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    2. Anne Frank wasn't killed because she lived a Jewish lifestyle. She was killed because she was born a jew.

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    3. You know that analogy doesn't work, because even an inherited religious title has its origin in 4-dimensional space-time expression.

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    4. >You know that analogy doesn't work<
      Precisely.

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    5. You equivocate (once again) . . . this time on the concept of "inborn" traits. My analogy stands. She was killed for the choices of her parents, she being too young to apostatize for freedom (which would have been cowardly anyway).

      The author equivocated first, however, by the vague expression, "growing up homosexual." Does this mean the inclination, the acts, or both? Shy, fair, boys who love books and feel hetero towards girls will still get beaten up and called faggot. The SSM movement wants to pretend that acts and inclinations are the same, but such is a dehumanizing characterization.

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    6. >She was killed for the choices of her parents, she being too young to apostatize for freedom<

      You talk as if the Nazis would have left them alone if only they had been wise enough to convert to the One True Faith.

      The Nazis did not object to their religious beliefs. They hated the Jewish race. Apostasy would not have saved them.

      The original author is quite right in comparing the irrational hatred that some people have for gay or effeminate men with the hatred the Nazis had for the Jews, and quite right to point out that this can only be combated effectively by teaching empathy.

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  24. Ian,

    > First, does R have a child near high school age? <

    Nope.

    > Second, and I think this point is stronger, consider his various violations of formal reason as face-saving measures. <

    Yes, that’s definitely possible. But no less disappointing or irritating…

    Alastair,

    > He now believes that some natural behaviors are morally right and some are morally wrong, depending on the context <

    No shit. Which means — as DM as repeatedly tried to explain to you — that natural/innatural is logically orthogonal with moral/immoral. And that’s got precisely nothing to do with moral relativism.

    Greg,

    > First you experienced the emotions of compassion and empathy, then you found the arguments to support them. <

    How do you know? I actually think I have arrived at my position on gay rights first by argument, then my emotions have aligned. In perfect Aristotelian fashion…

    Thomas,

    > The simple truth is that many of our core values or beliefs do not have a basis that was reached in any deduction or logical fashion. <

    Correct, but that is the point of critical thinking: to help people re-examine their fundamental beliefs to see if they aligned with how the world is or should be.

    > He would probably have preferred to be left alone. He certainly doesn't appear to be interested in either Massimo's arguments or his own beliefs. <

    As Steve will point out in a new post coming out tomorrow, whenever people post things on social networks (as R did on Facebook) they most certainly are interested in sharing their opinions, and arguably in getting the support of others (the infamous “like” button).

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    1. @ Massimo

      > No shit. <

      There is no need to use profanity in order to make your point. However, if it allows you to release any frustration you might have with me, then do whatever makes you feel good. But remember, you cannot morally justify it on that basis because you will then be committing the naturalistic fallacy.

      > Which means — as DM as repeatedly tried to explain to you — that natural/innatural is logically orthogonal with moral/immoral. <

      But nature itself has something to do with morality. Why? Because morality is an evolutionary adaptation.

      > And that’s got precisely nothing to do with moral relativism. <

      But whether or not we live in a moral universe has something to do with moral relativism. (I will assume that you do not believe that nature is intrinsically moral. Therefore, I will characterize your ethical position as moral relativism. Hopefully, you will not take any exception to this.)

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    2. Alastair,

      > There is no need to use profanity in order to make your point. <

      If you don't mind, this is my blog, and I get to decide which language is appropriate when. You are under no obligation to read it, as much as I value dissenting opinions.

      > allows you to release any frustration you might have with me <

      That's a lot of frustration, because you seem to be a smart fellow, and yet insist in willfully misreading what I and others (e.g., DM) write, presumably because you just can't bring yourself to admit that your worldview may not be the most coherent of them all. Too bad, really.

      > you cannot morally justify it on that basis because you will then be committing the naturalistic fallacy <

      No, I would be engaging in emotionalism, which has nothing to do with the naturalistic fallacy.

      > nature itself has something to do with morality. Why? Because morality is an evolutionary adaptation. <

      See? Here you go again. A *sense* of right and wrong, call it proto-morality *may* be (likely is) an evolutionary adaptation. But we've moved to much more complicated conceptions of morality since the Pleistocene.

      > whether or not we live in a moral universe has something to do with moral relativism. <

      No, it has nothing to do with it. I don't even know what it means to "live in a moral universe." The universe isn't moral (or immoral), it just is. We as conscious, reflective, human beings bring morality into it. And no, this is *not* relativism.

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    3. Hi Massimo.

      I agree that moral relativism has very little to do with what's at stake here.

      However, the concept of a "moral universe" is not absurd to me, and the connection to moral relativism is clear.

      A "moral universe" would be a universe where there are objective laws of morality akin to the laws of gravity, presumably laid down by God or as determined by naturalistic properties. Any theistic or naturalistic account of objective moral realism therefore assumes the moral universe.

      Moral relativism on the other hand denies that there is any objective law of morality, so the universe is amoral as you imagine.

      I think Alastair is taking a broader definition of moral relativism than you or I would use. As I have said, I am not a moral realist, but I hold fast to my own subjective moral preferences and intuitions. Alastair calls this moral relativism. I'm not sure I would, since moral relativism has connotations of not judging others by your own moral standards, whereas I would hold my own moral standards to be universal (if I'm the one judging).

      As I understand it, the difference here is between meta-ethical moral relativism (me) and normative moral relativism (the non-judgmental kind).

      I think as long as you don't believe in objective right or wrong, Alastair may be correct that you are a meta-ethical moral relativist, however I still don't think it has much to do with the original article.

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    4. @ Massimo

      > No, I would be engaging in emotionalism, which has nothing to do with the naturalistic fallacy. <

      But it doesn't appear that emotionalism has a lot to do with rationalism either.

      > See? Here you go again. A *sense* of right and wrong, call it proto-morality *may* be (likely is) an evolutionary adaptation. But we've moved to much more complicated conceptions of morality since the Pleistocene.<

      But this just means that morality is still evolving (memetic selection is as much of a natural phenomenon as genetic selection).

      > No, it has nothing to do with it. I don't even know what it means to "live in a moral universe." <

      It means that morality is in some sense objective

      > The universe isn't moral (or immoral), it just is. We as conscious, reflective, human beings bring morality into it. And no, this is *not* relativism. <

      Your position on this matter appears to be contradictory. As I see it, if morality is not objective in any sense, then the only logical option left is moral relativism.

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  25. I was hoping that this thread would focus more on the problem of argument between emotionally bonded individuals instead of gay rights or any particular topic of discussion.

    The big questions are:

    – How should we argue with someone of our relation without compromising objectiveness and intelectual honesty, and at the same time keeping an eventual disagreemend within its proper boundaries?

    – How to cope with frustration that arises from an irrational response?

    My two preliminary answers are:

    – Trial and error.
    – Humor. I find vaccination through sarcasm very helpful many times. If it doesn't clear contradictions out of the way, at least it ends the conversation in a good mood. However, the risk of falling into cynicism is a recurring problem...

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    1. Hi Francisco,

      I agree it would be good to talk about this. Unfortunately I'm a bit pessimistic. I think most people just don't want to have these kinds of conversations, and I know of no way to change their minds.

      Trying to force people to question their beliefs is only going to lose you friends.

      Which is probably why I don't have many!

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    2. OK, so one could start with that: forcing others into questioning their beliefs. I don't think that forcing anyone to anything, in respect to dialogue, does any good.

      But perhaps the belief that that's what someone is doing to the other when disputing their claims or beliefs is a part of the problem.

      Some people do see their opinions as their feud, and are not capable of separating the quality of their arguments from that of their own character. Why is that?

      Was dispute on the grounds of reasoning a characteristic of our ancestors' communities that had the political consequences of a war without bloodshed?

      Being corrected has, sometimes, the taste of a lost challenge. But being aware of the irrationality of it doesn't make it any better...

      We all, as human beings, should know more about these things.

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    3. I think you're perhaps taking me the wrong way when I say "forcing".

      By suggesting that you think about a pink elephant, am I not in fact forcing you to think about a pink elephant?

      Even asking polite questions is in the same way forcing people to question their own beliefs.

      These dialogues feel like "forcing" because that's what they are to people who prefer to leave their beliefs unexamined, and I don't think there's any way around that.

      In my view, any attempt to present questions, evidence or counterarguments which could undermine a belief amounts to forcing them to question those beliefs themselves. The kind of dialogue we want to engage in is impossible without this "force".

      That's not to say that you can't get around this hostility to force through the use of subtlety. It's possible to get people to question their beliefs without their realising that's what you're doing.

      Fiction is a great way to do this. Ostensibly you're telling a story, but by giving access to somebody else's point of view, you have the opportunity to subtly steer the audience towards certain conclusions without their realising what you are doing.

      This is less honest than straightforward dialogue, though perhaps more effective if implemented well.

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    4. DM,

      The use of fiction as argument is a good way to talk. But not the same thing as imposing some subliminal Trojan Horse of philosophy that is going to burn our intellect to the ground. The latter makes more justice to some emotional responses we see around us...

      And fiction is also the object of outrage from some more or less fundamentalist people.

      As of the feeling of being forced, I was talking about the apparent outrage some people display at the mere consideration of simple ideas. It's not as by making me thinking of a pink elephant you are actually making me smell it.

      And, of course, about the feeling of ridicule that usually follows a demonstration of the falsehood of our stance.

      It is as though our beliefs are some form of social currency we own, and their soundness their exchange value. Suddenly, someone appears and makes us instantly poor by simply saying: I don't agree with that. The thief!

      Or as though considering someone else's morals would somehow necessarily inject pure sin into our souls.

      The emotional processes we make use of in articulating arguments must be interfering in some way. That interference must be actively limited for our own benefit and also in order to avoid irrational dispersion in some conversation. Especially conversations with our relatives, that for some reason are more prone to negative emotional responses.

      There is more to this than bias, I think.

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    5. >As of the feeling of being forced, I was talking about the apparent outrage some people display at the mere consideration of simple ideas.<

      The mere consideration of simple ideas is forcing them to question their beliefs. For those who want to leave those beliefs unquestioned, this feels like an assault.

      >It is as though our beliefs are some form of social currency we own, and their soundness their exchange value. Suddenly, someone appears and makes us instantly poor by simply saying: I don't agree with that. The thief!<

      I think your characterisation is accurate, but what's more I think those who behave like this actually have reason to do so.

      Certainty is attractive. Leaders exert influence by appearing strong and certain. Changing one's mind is a sign of weakness.

      Not that it should be, but that seems to be how we're wired. Presented with two points of view, one couched in maybes and probabilities, and the other presented as black and white certainty, we seem to find certainty more compelling.

      And if you express certainty and then later recant, then why should we take you seriously in future?

      There are of course other factors playing into it. People don't want to change their minds because their opinions form part of their identity. They share these beliefs with others in their peer group, and so changing their minds constitutes a betrayal of this identity and this group. People are reluctant to leave their religions because of this investment. Any attempt to get them to question their beliefs is therefore an invitation to commit an act of betrayal and so is rarely welcomed.

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  26. > The simple truth is that many of our core values or beliefs do not have a basis that was reached in any deduction or logical fashion. <

    I reduced Einstein's equation and found the core value is truth, or simply just equals me. =

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  27. Well, I don't see productive dialogue as engaging in force in any sense. There is simply too much definitional ground work to be laid before even beginning such a process, the nature of which must be mutually agreed on. The fact that someone may lack the sophistication to support a value or belief with formal argumentation does not lead to the conclusion that he should abandon his value/belief in the face of such argumentation. That would lead us to assume that the party who engaged in such argumentation was always right by reason of his method. But it would in no way close the issue since it doesn't preclude a third party making an superior argument.

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    1. Thomas,

      > The fact that someone may lack the sophistication to support a value or belief with formal argumentation does not lead to the conclusion that he should abandon his value/belief in the face of such argumentation. <

      Why not? Are you suggesting that one should maintain a belief that is demonstrably irrational? Your claim about the party who makes the rational argument would be assumed to be always right doesn't follow. No party is always right, but one argument may be significantly better than another in a specific case.

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    2. Hi Thomas,

      Were you addressing my point about questioning beliefs being engaging in force?

      If so, I'm not at all saying that dialogue forces people to change their beliefs, even if those beliefs are wrong or unsupportable. What it does do is force them to question their beliefs - entertain for a moment the hypothetical possibility that those beliefs are false, or to enter an uncomfortable state of cognitive dissonance.

      Many people simply do not want to do that, so to ask them those questions is to force them to do something they do not want to do.

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    3. Sorry, guys, I was on the road yesterday. To Massimo, no, that's not what I'm saying. I'm suggesting that it is evident that in many such every day discussions, many people deny that they are being irrational despite the merits of the arguments. I don't think, for example, that your relative thinks his position is irrational, but he probably thinks your arguments are irrelevant. The question relates to the efficacy of rational argument in the type of situation you describe.

      To DM, no, I just saw the word "force" used by both you and Francisco and wanted to stick my 2 cents in. The "force" of rationale argument may encourage someone to change a trivially held opinion or belief in the sort of exchange that Massimo describes, but not so in the case of deeply held beliefs or values without accounting for a number of other factors. Where core beliefs/values are at stake, you need to keep in mind that before the other person can change he will have to make other decisions that will impact his life, for example, the groups he belongs to. Most people intuitively understand these ramifications on their lives. So it's not a simple matter of who presents the superior rational argument.

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    4. Hi Thomas,

      You seem to be missing the point that whether the person's mind is changed is irrelevant. You're still forcing them to question it, which (due to the ramifications of actually changing their mind), is often unwelcome.

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    5. Hi DM, just to clarify, I said that in the sort of exchange that Massimo describes, one party may deem the other party's argument as irrelevant, i.e., as not alone a compelling reason to change a deeply held belief. You are saying that such dialog is a good thing because it is may encourage the other person to reconsider his beliefs/values (here, I think that what you are really saying is that it may get him to reconsider his "argument," if in fact he has one.) Consider the real life situations where one party simply walks away or says "I don't want to discuss this anymore" or "You really don't understand where I'm coming from" or "You can't say anything that will change my mind". In these situations, you may have to decide whether winning an argument or maintaining a relationship is of greater importance to you. I think Massimo felt depressed and sad because he intuitively understood this dynamic. So as a mechanism or tool for changing deeply held beliefs, I think rational dialog is useful, but hardly controlling. But I understand your point and Massimo's. I just think you both overestimate the importance of argumentation in these everyday situations.

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    6. Hi Thomas,

      I think you're completely misunderstanding my point of view.

      Francisco was asking how can we best engage in these discussions, whereas I was responding by saying that many people don't want to be forced to question their beliefs and so will not want to participate in these discussions at all.

      As such, I think that it may be best just to leave it alone (at least if you want to maintain the friendship). So I think we're actually saying the same thing.

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  28. Massimo: Indeed, but your (or mine, or R’s) feelings count for little unless we are able to articulate why such feelings are justified.

    I'm not sure how you're defining "justified" in this sentence, but at least so long as humans are involved in the story, I would wager that it too has an emotional dimension to it. (Disclaimer: I actually think the reason/emotion dichotomy is psychologically unrealistic, but I'm willing to work with it as a manner of speaking.)

    IOW, if an argument feels wrong, then no amount of calling it "justified" is likely to change that, unless perhaps those feelings are overpowered by other feelings for the criteria used in justification.

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  29. Massimo,

    Well there is a lot of people that suppose that science can provide true answers about meaning, value and purpose, which is a clearly wrong, does that count as irrationality or is it a special exception.
    Or the people that hold to ideas on the basis of acceptance the insights of figures of authority (even if it does look counterintuitive or plain unreasonable) is that irrational (or is it another special case).
    Or do people when choose to conform to the particular cultural conception of the groups (or tribes) he is a member is that irrational (or is it another special case).

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  30. Hi, I linked here from IEET, where I was banned by Kris Notaro for arguments similar to those I'll make below. If you would like to especially honor the points you make about rational discourse and free speech (with which I agree), you might give Kris a reprisal for his bigotry and bullying of me. I blogged there as Henry Bowers, and will let you investigate the case as you see fit.

    But can we back up a second: what is the reason for giving a child to gay parents? 'A loving and caring home for survival' would, as an answer, beg the question of what is reasonable (reasonableness being necessary but not sufficient for loving and caring) about the maneuver. I think we'll see that there is no reason to place a child in this environment, because the environment itself is something unintelligible. We don't really know what to call the behavior that practicing homosexuals enact. It might include elements of profound friendship, and of profound pleasure, but since both can be had without the other, we are left to wonder what intrinsically is to be sought by the haphazard manipulation of organs and orifices, and how a relationship based on this merits the inclusion of the young.

    So could we begin there? What is intelligible about same-sex unions?

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    Replies
    1. >What is intelligible about same-sex unions?<

      I really don't understand what you mean. Intelligible means comprehensible. If you don't find them intelligible, then you don't understand them, which means that you lack the empathy necessary to understand how it is possible for two members of the same sex to love each other.

      Assuming you are a man, then I imagine this is because you cannot imagine what it must be like to truly love another man. And yet I bet you have no trouble accepting that women can love men. So why not men loving men?

      And why the preoccupation with sex? Plenty of homosexual couples are together because of love, not (just) sexual attraction. Stephen Fry in a recent documentary on homosexuality made this point very clearly. He personally has no interest in buggery. He's interested in love and companionship. I'm sure he's not alone. And that kind of stable, loving relationship is what is needed to rear kids. Not sexual activity.

      As for the independence of "profound friendship" and "profound pleasure", the exact same thing is true of heterosexual couples, so I have no idea what point you think you are making.

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    2. Empathy is not required for understanding possibilities, and I could never experience another's feelings, anyway. You are approaching this phenomenologically, and I think that only works in a community that has a pre-established consensus on terms and concepts. I insisted we incorporate the term "reasonable" in to the term "love," but you have equivocated "love" into the feelings alone. Thus, I don't see how we're going to get very far. Love includes acknowledging that someone else's mind was created for truth, and leading them to that truth if given the opportunity. Until we can define SSM, we cannot propose true or false judgments about it; it remains a subjective interplay of private pleasures. The state has never called that marriage, and kids deserve better than to be accoutred to the union as just another private pleasure.

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    3. Empathy is not required for understanding possibilities, and I could never experience another's feelings, anyway. You are approaching this phenomenologically, and I think that only works in a community that has a pre-established consensus on terms and concepts. I insisted we incorporate the term "reasonable" in to the term "love," but you have equivocated "love" into the feelings alone. Thus, I don't see how we're going to get very far. Love includes acknowledging that someone else's mind was created for truth, and leading them to that truth if given the opportunity. Until we can define SSM, we cannot propose true or false judgments about it; it remains a subjective interplay of private pleasures. The state has never called that marriage, and kids deserve better than to be accoutred to the union as just another private pleasure.

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    4. I honestly can't understand your argument.

      >I insisted we incorporate the term "reasonable" in to the term "love,"<

      I don't know what this means. What does incorporating one term into another mean?

      > but you have equivocated "love" into the feelings alone<

      Because love is an emotion.

      >Love includes acknowledging that someone else's mind was created for truth<

      I don't know what this means. Minds were not created. They evolved, and the function they evolved for was to process inputs and to produce adaptive behaviours. In the words of the philosopher Turner, what's love got to do with it?

      >Until we can define SSM, we cannot propose true or false judgments about it<

      Stable, loving relationships between people of the same sex recognised by the state and by society. But whether we call it marriage or not has little bearing on the issue. If you think the word "marriage" ought to be reserved for different sex or religious unions, then that's a different argument. The term we use to describe it is not relevant for determining if such couples should be allowed to adopt children.

      >The state has never called that marriage<

      Depends what state you're talking about. Plenty of states do call it marriage now.

      >kids deserve better than to be accoutred to the union as just another private pleasure<

      So kids adopted by gay couples are "just another private pleasure" but kids adopted by straight couples are not? How do you justify the distinction?

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    5. I think calling love an "emotion" only picks out one aspect of love (the "feeling" of love). But surely you agree that there's more to love than that. You might also think that love includes certain kinds of behavior (helping that person out, treating them with respect, yadda yadda).

      Delete
    6. I think love is an emotion, not the behaviour caused by that emotion.

      But I don't have a major issue with you if you want to include the outward appearance of love in the definition for the purposes of conversation.

      Delete
    7. Does it have to be outward appearance, or could it be a chosen decision, an act of the practical intellect? The government has never, ever, performed a test for "love" or "stability" before granting a marriage license.

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    8. >The government has never, ever, performed a test for "love" or "stability" before granting a marriage license.<

      Oh, so you would define as marriage that which the government declares to be marriage? In that case I assume you recognise SSM in jurisdictions where this is recognised by law.

      No? Well in that case what the government tests for is irrelevant. If two people legally marry for the purposes of obtaining a green card, I would suggest that is not really a marriage at all, even if legally recognised as such.

      So, I stick by my decision. A marriage is really a marriage if it is based on love and is expected to be stable, is recognised by the state and by society.

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    9. I still think it's 2 separate questions, perennially and inopportunely conflated: (1) What is that man-woman good that fails to migrate into other types of communities? (2) What's in the state's interest to promote?

      Delete
  31. Proponents will make the analogy of same-sex unions to marriage, having already redefined that term by fiat in the West. They will say there is no essential difference. (male parts, female parts, male brain, female brain, male behavior, female behavior, same difference). Their argument goes as follows

    1) It is morally permissible for Mr. and Mrs. Smith to adopt
    2) There is no essential difference between Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mr. and Mr. Jones
    3) Therefore it is morally permissible for Mr. and Mr. Jones to adopt

    I'm curious where you're going with your argument. Can you explain more what you mean when you ask "What is intelligible about same-sex unions?"

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    Replies
    1. You have identified my complaint. If adoption is the major term, your syllogism will be valid if Jones' is the minor term, but this purports to say that we understand to the point of definition the Jones' union, but that we don't know everything about the Smiths'. The problem here is that (a) we don't have a definition of marriage from the SSM camp; they can't and won't provide one; (b) what the SSM-ers do is in fact no part of what the Smiths' do (whatever they do). So the minor premise is more than metaphysically wrong, it is logically preposterous.

      If we construct adoption to be the minor term, however, the minor premise will suppose that we know to the point of definition what the Smiths can do (which is true), but that it is a sub-set of what the Jones' can do, which is self-evidently false.

      So by intelligibility I mean the ability to define SSM so that we may proceed to the auxiliary question of how the state should approach such a state-transcendent reality (if it is one).

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    2. The definition of "same sex marriage" is "marriage".

      I don't see what marriage has to do with adoption. Whether a person or persons should be considered as adoptive parent(s) has to be decided on a case by case basis, taking into account whether a good environment for the child can be provided. And what constitutes a good environment is in large part an empirical matter.

      If you have any reasons for believing that certain combinations of parental genitals would constitute a bad environment for bringing up children I would appreciate if you could state them.

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    3. It is a bad environment, because it is an environment of two adults who are habitual liars. They lie to each other by stimulating each others' genitals, promising the proximity of the intelligible good of marriage, when each of them know that good is nowhere in sight. Coitus is a self-evident reality that is fulfilling and perfective of human persons, and which the state has an interest to protect due to its procreative proclivity. SSM does nothing of rational value for anyone on the planet. And that is not an emotion, it is a cognitive evaluation.

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    4. I can't even tell you how utterly disregarded this assessment will be here, due to the number of implicit assumptions/premises (teleology, essentialism, natural law) not granted by other board members.

      Say, do you have a website, blog, or e-mail? You seem to have an interesting take on things

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    5. NiqDan135,
      So if a male and a female know that one is infertile, then they should not marry and should not engage in sex? Should the state require people to pledge not engage in sex unless both members of the couple are willing and able to have children before they are allowed to marry?

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    6. NiqDan135,

      Again with the obsession with sex and genitals. Gay relationships are not all about sex. No more than heterosexual relationships are. Sex is not the most important thing in a relationship -- far from it. Plenty of couples, gay and straight, don't have much sex at all.

      There is no lie either. Your assertion that same sex marriage is unintelligible is itself unintelligible.

      It's perfectly easy to understand what same sex marriage is. It's the same as heterosexual marriage, only with people of the same gender. It's such a trivially simple extension of an existing concept I honestly have no idea how you can claim it is unintelligible.

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    7. @NiqDan135
      >SSM does nothing of rational value for anyone on the planet. And that is not an emotion, it is a cognitive evaluation.<

      Hogwash! Of course it provides value. It provides value for the participants, and provides stability and security for any family they choose to raise.

      Delete
    8. @curio37: thanks for the encouragement. I might launch a blog someday, but I want to finish my M.A. philosophy first, as it takes all my time.

      @michael fugate: I think coitus still has its reproductive proclivity, even if impediments frustrate that outcome for some people. Besides, a perfectly fertile couple could be just plain unlucky for 40 years and never conceive. The more relevant government check, I think, would be for impotence, for they're the ones who fail to instantiate what-it's-all-about; but that would be way too invasive, of course. Regarding the fecundity pledge, that's again not a power I'd want government to have, even if I very much appreciate it as a religious vow. The point of protecting coitus, I think, is that _when_ the couple decides to be generous, faithful, prudent, and well-behaved, everyone in the community benefits. That makes tolerating all kinds of other worthless behavior in coital marriages worth it for the state.

      Delete


    9. ????

      So it is ok for different-sex couples to lie, but not same sex couples.
      Why?

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    10. They're not lying, because they can perform coitus together. Kids are never completely planned, since they are a foreseeable, but stochastic, side-effect. Offspring cannot be directly intended, but the choice for coitus, which embodies the marriage, can be.

      Thus, the impotent, who cannot partake of coitus, cannot really achieve marriage, but the state (in the rare case that this would ever happen)should allow that even they, without ever once succeeding in practicing coitus, receive the legal recognition and promotion of their partnership as a marriage, since at least in the public eye, they can embody every thing about marriage that is beneficial to the state: sexual complementarity, a cooperative and exclusive unity, the possibility of giving kids a mom and a dad.

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    11. NiqDan,
      But if they know it can't lead to children - then it is lying in your sense. If you are missing ovaries - say - no amount of sex is going to produce a child.

      You do know that almost all mammals, many birds, most reptiles and even fish - not many the varied invertebrates - engage in coitus - so how is this something sacred when everyone is doing it? Some of these are even hermaphrodites - can you believe it?

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    12. NiqDan is being a little unclear (or maybe it's just me) but it sounds like he's taking a standard "natural law" approach.

      Yes, animals engage in coitus (when did that word go out of fashion?)

      According to natural law theory, what makes human activity ethical and animal activity morally neutral is the fact that humans have a rational intellect. Thus, our lower functions that we share with chimps and slugs such as consumption or coitus become elevated to a rational level.

      We choose our ends. Some are naturally good for us, some aren't. Accordng to NigDan, coitus with the open possibility of procreation is good and intelligible in a way that the "haphazard manipulation of organs and orifices" in SSM is not.

      NiqDan, am I close or way off?

      Delete
    13. The lying is acting dualistically; it's not possible to attempt or even intend to sunder the physical goods of a person from their procreative good if that procreative good is knowingly inoperable. Therefore, the knowingly infertile spouses do not, and could not possibly even if they intended to, lie in that regard. The SSM-ers, however, commit precisely that lie. They pretend the person is not his body, that his friendship and pleasure may be respected and enjoyed despite the arbitrary and irrational manipulation of his body.

      @curio: I do believe natural law is real, but I have reservations about the prevailing, Suarezian, metaphysical account. There is nothing plainer in Aristotle and Aquinas than that it is the practical intellect, and not the speculative, to which natural law is ordained, and by which morality is to be known.

      So when you say some ends are naturally good for us, I agree, but I don't want to pretend that they can be known by teleology per se, nor by deduction from facts about the world. Rather, a study of man's inclinations reveals that there are goods for which we run out of reasons to pursue; they are pursued for their own sakes and thus give rise to the principles which make practical deliberation, choice, and action possible. One of these goods is being alive; another is health; another is knowledge. To directly oppose any of them, then, is to undermine the foundation of reason's first employment, and such is necessarily immoral since obligation pertains to the is-to-be of these goods, and not from the 'is' of anything statically in being. Therefore, when I say above that homosexual acts are 'irrational,' I mean there is no irreducible good, pursued for its own sake, that makes those acts intelligible.

      (I'm a fan of New Natural Law theory, but obviously still a beginner.)

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    14. >We choose our ends. Some are naturally good for us, some aren't. Accordng to NigDan, coitus with the open possibility of procreation is good and intelligible<

      Except that ignore's Michael's point that if the woman has no ovaries, the open possibility of procreation doesn't exist.

      And I object to the use of the word intelligible because it's being misapplied. Intelligible means incomprehensible, but it's perfectly easy to comprehend why same sex couples engage in sexual activities. It's pleasurable and in the case of stable relationships it helps to form and maintain a bond of love. Only the sorely lacking in imagination could fail to understand this.

      In any case, what does the "intelligibility" of same sex sex or same sex marriage have to do with raising children? Nothing, I would suggest.

      Curio37, it's clear you're trying to debate this from a rational perspective, and I appreciate that though I disagree with you. But NiqDan is being more than "a little unclear" - he/she is spewing pseudo-articulate pretentious nonsense, and the fact that you think that he/she has an interesting take on things in my mind undermines your position.

      Your position is that evolution is unlikely to have prepared us to cope well with same-sex marriage. That's a perfectly sensible (though in my view completely wrong) hypothesis, and there are grounds for debate.

      NiqDan, on the other hand, is claiming that same sex marriage has no definition, that homosexual sex is "unintelligible" and that homosexual couples are lying to each other. This is utter balderdash in comparison to your argument, and I'm surprised you don't see it.

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    15. This makes no sense. Absolutely none. Just a bunch of words strewn together to look like sentences.

      That some different-sex couples are knowingly living a lie and your willingness to accept this undermines you already weak argument.

      When did lying become a reason for preventing marriage?
      Why is pleasure something to be avoided?

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    16. @NiqDan

      >it's not possible to attempt or even intend to sunder the physical goods of a person from their procreative good if that procreative good is knowingly inoperable.<

      Michael said:
      >This makes no sense. Absolutely none. Just a bunch of words strewn together to look like sentences. <

      Michael's right.

      Perhaps you're right, NiqDan. Perhaps you have some very valid points.

      However, you're not as good a writer as you think you are. You are sorely lacking in the ability to communicate your thoughts effectively.

      I think you would be much better served if you tried to express yourself with simpler language, because you evidently lack the ability to both show off your vocabulary and transmit ideas at the same time.

      Delete
    17. When individuals attempt to deny rights to a group, they need to provide an argument that applies to that group and that group alone. This is very difficult to do. In this case, you cannot deny marriage to same-sex couples without denying it to a substantial number of different-sex couples. To do this, as I pointed out and NiqDan acknowledged, would be highly invasive.

      What is surprising to me is that he/she thinks that the outcomes of same-sex marriages are so harmful that they should be banned, but is willing to allow the same outcomes when from different-sex marriages. Harm is harm regardless of the source.

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    18. Disagreeable,

      It took a few posts, but I'm starting to think NiqDan takes his writing cues from Continental Philosophy. Very difficult to follow. I'm still intrigued, and I'd like to hear the position stated clearly.

      I'm also grateful that you can appreciate a dissenting voice and clearly articulate an opponent's position.

      Delete
    19. Michael, you're begging the question against my position. We can't ban anything until we know what it is and that it really exists or is even possible. I don't believe marriage is possible between parties of the same sex, because the only reality that makes marriage intelligible, to which it reduces in every case, is coitus. Gay people don't have coitus with each other. So if someone wants to change the definition of marriage so that the state may consider anew whether to support or ignore it, such a person would need to tell us what universal, tangible or intangible reality is expressed by gay unions. Once we have that, we'll know whether the term marriage can be redefined; but nobody has, nor can, nor ever will be able to provide that, because SSM is a subjective enterprise. Disagreeable's own admonition that I use my "imagination" to understand this fact proves my point ;)

      I'll try to help you guys out, since I know you'll be even more shy to attempt examples after we consider the ones Disagreeable has bravely proffered:
      (a) Could love define marriage? No, because I love my sister and my house.
      (b) Pleasure? No, because we have girlfriends and tennis partners.
      (c) Stability? No, because I have a stable relationship with my employer.
      (d) Raising kids? No, because orphanages staffed by unmarried persons raise kids.

      The list is nonsense until we get to coitus. Only then does the idea (of marriage) gain traction. SSM is a totalitarian enterprise of nominalism, and most of the comments in its defense will prove it so.

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    21. You've defeated your own argument.

      (e) Coitus? No, because we have girlfriends.

      (Reposted to fix typo)

      Delete
    22. Then why haven't concubines ever been called wives? We're inching toward the definition of marriage: the type of community that would be intrinsically fulfilled by the bearing and raising of children. The good that spouses have resists transplantation even into concubinage, for kids can be had and raised through concubinage, but such an event doesn't intrinsically fulfill the arrangement. Concubinage is always for convenience: pleasure and money, or maybe an heir — whom the royal family, and not the whore, will raise. Marriage could be for mere pleasure and convenience, except that it takes this grand step which concubinage doesn't: making it all public, making it a vow, and making it exclusive. The fact is, it is possible to privatize concubinage, but it is impossible to privatize marriage. Everyone needs to know, and does know eventually, who is married to whom. Who is manipulating whom, however, matters little to anyone, except the persons with the strongest claim against cross-manipulation, which are, Voila!, cheated spouses.

      My point is that even despite the common feature of coitus, the good of marriage stands distinct from other relationships by a mere act of the will. When SSM employs an act of the will, however, it will be to secure (a)-(d), for they cannot secure (e). Therefore, SSM is plainly not marriage, and never can be.

      Delete
    23. How the hell does sex differentiate marriage from non-marriage? Do you need to be married to have sex? no. Do you need to be married to have children? no. Can you be married and not have sex? yes. Can you be married and not have kids? yes.

      So two people who are married, but never have sex are not married? Seems like a contradiction right there - how can a couple be both married and not married?
      What if they don't have sex, but imagine having sex? or is it just the mere possibility of having sex in the future? The mood just has been right so far? Yet, anal sex and oral sex are possibilities too - not to mention dildos. An inventive, tool-using species like humans can come up with endless options. And sperm can be added with the need for a penis.

      This really does seem like an is/ought problem. Because males have penises and females have vaginas doesn't mean that penises ought to put in vaginas. Penises can be put lots of places and lots of things can be put in vaginas. Because sperm can fertilize eggs doesn't mean that sperm ought to fertilize eggs. And it certainly doesn't need to be through vaginal sex. I am just not seeing how sex is the only or even the most important factor in marriage.

      I do get a distinct whiff of the pre-enlightenment. Of old women greedily looking for blood on the sheets. Of zealous believers peering over my shoulder to prevent me from unorthodoxy. Of shivering in cold stone churches with incense masking the odors from the unbathed. It is not pleasant at all.

      Delete


    24. Then many different-sex marriages are not marriage. If you allow those marriages to stand, but not same-sex marriage, then you are giving rights to some but not others for no reason other than gender.

      So what is sex?
      When she is non-ovulating?
      When the female is menstruating?
      When the male is wearing a condom?
      When the female is using oral birth-control?
      When the male has a vasectomy?
      When the female has a tubal ligation?
      When the female has a hysterectomy?
      When the female has an ovariectomy?


      Delete
    25. Michael, I do concur with avoiding the is-ought problem, and my earlier explanations about practical reasoning circumnavigate that, but since it garnered me nothing but criticism about my writing ability, I'll leave it alone. But I agree with you.

      The problem, I think, is not a contradiction, but an equivocation. My a-e list was to get at the metaphysical-definatory problem; I think that can be treated separately from the legal problem, of which it seems you are now more interested.

      I'm not a legal expert, but I'll say this much: fertility has nothing to do with successful coitus. The 'intrinsic would-be-fulfillment' verbiage in the definition of marriage accounts for possible impediments to fertility.

      And I'm not sure it's as much about rights as it is about observed entitlements. The man-woman good of (e), subject to elevation by their own wills, is older than the state, such that when the state tries to deny that good, it acts plainly outside its authority.

      Since the elevation-by-will of (a)-(d) is reducible to something other than coitus, however, one would need to ask why that merits special endorsement by the state. If the state were to arbitrarily endorse (a)-(d) as equivalent to (e), it would be an unjust exercise of raw power, as literally an act of forgery or plagiarism. It would be to enforce by law that we now refer to all 'apples' as 'pears,' just because the state says so. That's okay when renaming a stadium, but if we were told by law to additionally call someone's private residence the stadium, we would suspect some kind of tongue-in-cheek running joke . . . before we realized what an unfit use of government time it all was.

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    26. >Then why haven't concubines ever been called wives? <

      Because coitus has little to do with marriage. This is why concubines are the exception to (e) just as your sister is to (a), your tennis partner is to (b), your employer is to (c) and an orphanage is to (d).

      In short, it is clear that there is nothing to distinguish (e) from any of your other proposed criteria except that it arbitrarily excludes gay couples.

      But I think your definition leaves out plenty of other criteria. In particular, I think "pleasure" is relatively unimportant and I don't agree with you at all that marriage is about raising children. For me, marriage is about a relationship between two people.

      Here are my criteria:

      1) Voluntary
      Parties choose to enter the relationship. As such, it is unlike a brother-sister relationship.
      2) Committed
      Parties intend to remain in the relationship until death.
      3) Loving
      Parties love and support each other
      4) Special
      The relationship is unlike any other relationship in the lives of the parties (apart from previous or subsequent marriages). It is special and important to them.
      5) Partnership
      The parties are equal. There is no nominal leader, no nominal follower. As such, it is unlike a parent-child relationship, although one party may be naturally more dominant than another. The parties work as a team and act in their mutual interest.
      6) Sexual
      The parties are sexually interested in each other.
      7) Recognised by the state
      The relationship is supported by law
      8) Recognised by society
      The relationship is supported by social institutions

      Now, I don't actually think we need all these criteria. I think any relationship that has almost all of them could be considered to be a marriage. In particular, I think a marriage remains a marriage if the parties have no sexual interest in each other (e.g. perhaps libido has been lost due to aging or illness). Forced marriage might also blossom into real marriage given time, so that parties would not voluntarily leave the relationship. A marriage not recognised by law might also be considered a real marriage if it meets the other criteria.

      And so on.

      In this sense, marriage might be a family resemblance word in Wittgenstein's sense. Like games, marriages may tend to exhibit certain features but no features are definitive of the category.

      Unless of course we simply take marriage to be whatever some authority (the church or the state) decrees to be a marriage in which case it becomes a rather trivial question.

      In either case, it is absolutely clear that there is nothing incoherent about the concept of such a relationship existing between two people of the same sex.

      There is nothing unintelligible about it, so please stop pretending that no definition of SSM is possible (even if you disagree with mine).

      Delete
    27. Nice try, Disagreeable. My argument was that items (a)-(d), under any degree of amplification, fail to establish a good unavailable to other types of communities. But (e) does establish such a good, precisely under the amplification I explained (viz. act of the will). So your simple negation, that amplification of (e) fails to make the change I propose it does, doesn't even manage to beg the question: it dodges it.

      Furthermore: your criteria could be met by two cadets in the Army who happen to bunk up once in a while. Give me even one precedent in history where anyone on Earth called that a marriage. Try again.

      Delete
    28. So marriage is the "amplification" of coitus by an act of will?

      That seems to me to be a case of special pleading.

      I could just as well say that marriage is the amplification of love, or friendship, or pleasure, or stability by an act of will.

      Well, perhaps this is not true, because, quite genuinely, I have no idea what you are talking about when you say "amplification by an act of will".

      >Furthermore: your criteria could be met by two cadets in the Army who happen to bunk up once in a while.<

      Nonsense.

      The relationship you describe does not have commitment (of any kind), love, specialness, state recognition or social recognition. It doesn't really have partnership because the couple does not work together for their mutual interest. It has only voluntary participation and mutual sexual interest. 2 out of 8 criteria is not going to cut it.

      Delete


    29. How do you then define successful sex? orgasm by both partners?

      Delete
    30. @Disagreeable: You didn't object when I said "elevated." I changed verbs to "amplified" by mistake; I apologize, I meant elevated. It's not special-pleading if the elevation of (e) by the will is a self-evident good-in-itself. Those who elevate (e) can also elevate (a)-(d), but the converse is not true.

      @michael: Morally upright coitus would involve mutual orgasm, but success just means that coital penetration occurs and that the attempt is made by both agents for ejaculation to occur exclusively in the vagina. Now that's one HOT Thanksgiving post! *beads of sweat*

      Delete
    31. Elevate/amplify, it's all the same. I still don't understand what you mean, and as far as I can see my point still stands.

      >the elevation of (e) by the will is a self-evident good-in-itself<

      Why can't I say that "the elevation of (a) by the will is a self-evident good-in-itself"?

      >Those who elevate (e) can also elevate (a)-(d), but the converse is not true.<

      So, those who can elevate sex can also elevate love, but those who elevate love cannot elevate sex? That doesn't make sense. If someone can elevate sex and love then they can elevate love and sex. Your argument is incomprehensible to me.


      Also, you have not commented on my defense of my proposed definition of marriage. I think I have successfully refuted your attempt at a counter-example. So, have I defined marriage in a way compatible with SSM or not? If so, is SSM not "intelligible"? If not, why not?

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    32. You're equivocating on "love," friend, we're still stuck there. The Greeks have multiple words for it, and the English language could benefit from them, I think. Nietzsche and Freud fell into the same trap, attacking a straw-man _they_ called Christianity, for example.

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    33. @NiqDan

      How am I equivocating on "love"?

      It actually seems to me that you are, as in your criteria for marriage you compare the love between romantic partners to the love you have for your sister and your house.

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    34. When it comes to this "marriage debate", I think there is a simple distinction to be made here: descriptive definition of marriage and prescriptive account of marriage. The former attempts to describe this social phenomenon called "marriage", which is done by sociologists, anthropologists, and sometimes law theorists who go over the world to study how marriage is conducted in both legal and cultural sense. They try to define marriage based on empirical data, but this proves to be extremely difficult because there are different kinds of marriages: monogamous marriage, polygamous marriage, polyandry marriage, and so on. Marriages also vary on what initiates marriages: Some marriages are done out of romantic love, whereas others are arranged by the family. The difficulty of defining marriage is so great that I do not think it is useful to ask anyone in this debate to define marriage in the descriptive sense; I think it is almost unfeasible.

      The latter, on the other hand, attempts to prescribe norms about what marriage ought to be. For example, we can agree that there are polygamous marriages and monogamous marriages, but only prescribe monogamous marriages as the norm of marriage. Questions like "What norms *should* constitute marriage?" should be part of this debate rather than "What is marriage?", because i think the former is much more feasible than the latter. However, this would lead to a wide debate about whether or not polygamy is permissible or if it is only monogamy that is permissible. If we assume only monogamy is permissible for the sake of the argument, then can it both homosexual and heterosexual or only heterosexual? I won't answer it on this post, since I am only concerned that this distinction might be overlooked.

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    35. Philonous, I appreciate your honoring a distinction I also find important (descriptive vs. legally proscriptive), but I disagree that extrinsic motivation has anything to do with defining what it is that married people achieve (i.e. coitus). That would be like saying my intention to rip off the company means I'm 'employed' differently than an honest worker. But in my view that's simply not true; employment is employment.

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  32. I think part of the issue is that people aren't really looking for argument, and that dialogue (to me) reads like someone who is trying to end the discussion rather than make cogent points. Which I think, at least when it comes to Facebook, is part of the issue. Not everyone wants to have to defend every point they make, though if they're putting a point across publicly then that's grounds for commentary/criticism.

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  33. This got pretty outlandish, guys. But when I read this, I inadvertently blew red wine across my computer screen: "The 'intrinsic would-be-fulfillment' verbiage in the definition of marriage accounts for possible impediments to fertility." Huh? I'm waiting to see that verbiage enacted into law. So this means that married male-female couples get special dispensation when they practice coitus interuptus because this is implicitly provided for in the definition of marriage? Or is the marriage temporarily dissolved until they get serious about impregnation?

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    1. Spewing wine . . . coitus interuptus . . . Thomas, was that a Freudian cry for help?

      But indeed, that act is not a passive impediment, but an active one. It is an immoral act completely separate and distinct from the act of coitus. We have no way of calculating what good could come from a possible human life, and so to pretend we do by acting against that possible person is patently unreasonable, and thus immoral at the most fundamental level.

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    2. NiqDan135, believe me, at my age, psychoanalysis is hardly the cure for 'intrinsic would-be-fulfullment.'

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    3. We have no way of calculating the bad either. You act as if women are nothing except for the fulfillment of men - it is 11th c. metaphysics in a 21st c. world. Do you know that deaths during pregnancy and childbirth are greater than zero (much, much so in the past and still in certain countries) and did you know that these all occur in adult women - never in adult men?

      You need to be able to justify that being born is actually better than not.
      That women should not be able to control what happens to their bodies.

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    4. NiqDan135 is arguing some sort of hybrid Aristotelian/Thomistic/Christian position, supposedly based on natural law theory, regarding the definition of marriage. Most of the commentators here simply reject that argument. He will then get into all sorts of strange slippery slope type arguments if you persist in wanting to broaden the definition of marriage. His position is argued more coherently, but, in my opinion no more convincingly, by philosophers like Edward Feser.

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    5. For sure, we cannot calculate the bad, but isn't it true that only a good thing can be corrupted into "bad"? Thus, good is the default.

      The ethics of abortion would be a great and interesting discussion, IMHO, but I don't want to take Massimo's post far afield.

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    6. Misogyny - obviously of no concern for you. Just baby making machines, no?

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    7. Women and their life-plans are irreducibly good as well, Michael, I don't know where you're locating the misogyny.

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    8. Did you read the comment above - do you think women might have plans and not want to be encumbered by multiple pregnancies? Have you ever thought what it might be like to be a woman?

      In your scheme - women should either be single and celibate or married and not use birth control maximizing pregnancies.

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    9. That's a false dichotomy. One can practice conditional abstinence (abstaining when cyclical indicators of fertility are positive), with the intention of protecting the existing goods in one's life, without ever willing against the possible child.

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    10. Not, it is not. Why bother with all this nonsense when we have a plethora of perfectly good birth control methods? Why shouldn't we be able to use the best methods available? How is the "rhythm method" any more "natural" than any other? And by the way, what is wrong with sex purely for pleasure? Why is the possibility for a child good? Why is even being born good? In your view why shouldn't every ova of every female be fertilized? If your view has any merit, why would an ejaculate contain millions of sperm when only one is needed? Why waste all those "potential children"?


      Cardinal Dolan was on a talk show claiming the RCC isn't anti-gay it's just pro-traditional marriage. That's like the KKK saying it isn't anti-black it's just pro-white. Whose tradition and whose marriage? Tradition doesn't automatically make something good - it's not a justification at all.

      Incoherence is my only conclusion.

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    11. @Michael: Thanks for sharing your conclusion, but I do have one reply to make about my own, which is that any conclusion can be arrived at logically or illogically. You have used my conclusion to decry a number of illogical steps that I have not committed, with implications I don’t endorse. Others have argued illogically to my same conclusion, but I have tried to avoid their mistakes. I should like to respond to all of your points, but that would require a post longer than Massimo's, which I think would be poor etiquette.

      So I'll respond simply by saying that I find it a deplorable insult to black people to suggest that their skin pigment is a preference that should be celebrated instead of an accident to their humanity that should be overlooked in the eyes of justice and in the name of the law. Indeed, the inclination to sodomitical acts might be an accident to one’s humanity, for we’re all predisposed to inclinations, but the sodomitical acts themselves are not an accident: they are an on-purpose, but a purpose that remains unintelligible (which is where I began my rebuttal), since it reduces, in the last analysis, to some kind of subjective experience for the individuals. Sodomitical acts are inhuman like murder is inhuman, even though the inclinations to murder and sodomy may be statistically, biologically, and essentially normal.

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    12. Preference!, my ass! You really are ignorant of basic biology. And talk about deplorable - comparing gay sex to murder is breath-taking, but I expect no less from the anti-gay crowd. No slander is too low to get your way. It certainly worked for the Mormons and Catholics opposing proposition 8 in California.

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    13. Michael, you're only insulting homosexually inclined people further, if you're implying that they can't control their actions.

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    14. Comments weren't working for me yesterday, but I too wanted to point out to fugate that he used a false analogy (homosexual behavior and black skin)

      NiqD, could you summarize your argument thus far?

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    15. NiqDan - lying won't get you the good graces of your god. It must painful for bigots like you - to find your lot's long history of long human and civil rights violations is being challenged. Every month more states and countries are allowing same-sex marriage. Your views are antiquated, backward and discriminatory - you've lost.

      Curio - How is that a false analogy? Please realize that the biology of
      human sexuality has advanced since the 10th century. Try to keep up.

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    16. Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that same-sex attraction were a choice (it's not, by the way) and you believe that this makes it perfectly fine to discriminate (unlike race or national origin, for instance). Then it should be perfectly fine to discriminate against religion (it's a choice). A country should be able to deny the right to worship, build a church, print materials, etc. Shoot yourself in the foot much?

      Also if it were a choice, then different-sex attraction would also be a choice and denying same-sex marriage while allowing different-sex marriage would still be discriminatory. You can't win.

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    17. @Michael: it's funny how other, actually disproven groups don't need bloggers reminding them that they've lost. And yet you find it important to so inform me. If I am wrong and losing influence, why not let me wander off and die? It's obvious that something in my message is of considerable importance to you.

      @Curio: I'm a beginner, and this got me yelled at last time, but I'll try:

      (1) Morality must be known by the practical intellect; this is because we don't know the answer to "Should a human run into a burning building to save another human?" It's not an affair for theoretical speculation, but is rather for practical deliberation.

      (2) Practical knowledge is directed by principles (do good, avoid evil, avoid stealing, avoid killing, delight your spouse), and principles, to be intelligible, require goods as their objects. Since goods are often cascaded in utility toward other goods, however, the principles of practical reason ultimately require some set of irreducible goods for their foundation, or goods which are pursued for no other reason than themselves.

      (3) From a survey of human anthropology, irreducible goods include friendship, play, knowledge, life, and health. That means all deliberate human actions, at some level, reduce to being the pursuit of a basic good.

      (4) The man-woman union is intelligible, ultimately, as a practical relationship to the good of human life (i.e. the new human life that would come to be at procreation). That doesn't mean that every agent in volitional intercourse intends conception, but rather that everyone understands that intercourse embodies a type of community that would be intrinsically fulfilled by the begetting and raising of a child.

      (5) The SSM interplay remains unintelligible. It finds no rest in friendship, nor even in play or health, because each of those goods can be had in an exemplary (and often superior) way by other means. SSM is moreover to summon the partner to an irreducible good that the other partner knows to be in principle, and not by accident, impossible for them.

      Conclusion: SSM interplay is an act against the very foundation of practical reasoning itself, which makes it inhuman, and thus against all reason, and immoral -- as immoral as declaring that every human must rush into every burning building, or must never do so, without considering practical facts.

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    18. @ Michael: Careful reading will note that I said the _acts_ are a choice, not the inclinations. Ignore me to your benefit.

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    19. @NiqDan,

      I should hope you won't get yelled at, because that explanation was helpful. I'm shaky on "natural law" theory. Embarrassingly so, since I love Aristotle. I'd say I'm a virtue ethicist, except that I'm sorely lacking in virtue...

      Contemporary philosophers will be befuddled by terms like "practical intellect", "basic human good", etc. I'm not nearly qualified to give an assessment of the strength of your argument, either positive or negative, but when I have more time I'll definitely look into natural law theory. Any recommended texts?

      @fugate,

      Yes, I'm aware that there is some possible genetic basis for behavior. This isn't limited to homosexuality. Traits as diverse as optimism, alcoholism, and musical aptitude have all been purported to have some genetic basis.

      Q: Is there a difference between behavior and orientation?

      If 'yes', the analogy you gave is false. If 'no', then it was a good analogy, but I'd like you to defend this claim since it's pretty darn contentious

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    20. Curio: the most acute explanation I've found is in Grisez's 1964 book, "Contraception and the Natural Law," a 40MB .pdf in the following link: http://www.twotlj.org/Contraception.html His emphasis is to avoid what he sees as the illogical NL approaches (which I think are popular today).

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    21. Thanks Niq. This book looks great

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  34. It is so difficult for me not to get emotional about others claiming that their "feelings" (even when not based on any legitimate reason) should affect other people's lives; and laws that affect us all. It is fine for someone to acknowledge that they are just going by their "gut", but not to use those feelings to marginalize others (regardless of the size of the minority.) As a previous comment mentioned, I too have simply stopped socializing with some folks ... and avoid certain topics with certain relatives; because it is too frustrating to try to make rational arguments when I am met with only "respect my opinion because it is my feeling." As for the posts about the importance of "male" and "female" modeling ... it is perhaps because of this false binary and its undeserved importance in our society that so many children do not develop healthy individual identities and healthy attitudes within their own relationships as they mature. I have to wonder where intersexuals fit into the comment about women and men having separate things that only one or the other can teach children. I'm still waiting for any example (other than breast-feeding) that only a male or only a female can do when raising a child.

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  35. I apologize that this post is somewhat off-topic (though maybe tangentially related), but I have a question that I've asked practically everywhere I can think of and can't get an answer. This is odd, because my question is about as simple as it gets:

    One time on "Rationally Speaking" (I think it was a Q&A episode), a study was mentioned that concluded along the lines that scientists are as biased as everyone else, and the reason science is able to make progress is because it works in the aggregate.

    When I heard about this, I thought it was very interesting, as a lot of pseudoscience promoters, conspiracy theorists, AGW deniers and the like seem to cling to the fantasy of "rugged individualists fighting against the tyranny of the scientific establishment". I would really like to read this study. Can someone direct me to it?

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