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Reply to George: VI. Marriage = Man + Woman

Rob Tisinai

February 18th, 2011

[This post is part of a series analyzing Robert George’s widely-read article, “What is Marriage“, which appeared on pages 245-286 of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. You can view all posts in the series here.]

This is it. This is the meat you’ve been waiting for. This is the next generation of anti-gay talking points. Because this is…

Pages 252-255: In which Robert George tries to prove only a man and a woman can marry.

George gets off to a bad start.

George writes:

As many people acknowledge, marriage involves:  first, a comprehensive union of spouses; second, a special link to children; and third, norms of permanence, monogamy, and exclusivity. All three elements point to the conjugal understanding of marriage.

Hmm. That second word, “many,” is one of the slipperiest in our language. More troubling, though, is why he’s even invoking what “many people acknowledge.” George holds that marriage is not just whatever we say it is, so why does it matter to him what “many people acknowledge”? This vague appeal to public opinion feels like he’s trying to get people to buy in for the wrong reasons.

I have a still bigger issue with “All three elements point to the conjugal understanding of marriage,” especially the phrase point to:  What does it mean?

To achieve his goal with the article, he must mean that these three concepts are necessary for a marriage to be a real marriage — that a marriage lacking any one or more of these three items is not a real marriage.

Remember, he’s not just saying that conjugal/procreative marriage is a real marriage. He’s trying to establish that other kinds of marriage are not real, that only the conjugal/procreative view is valid.

We’re seeing some slick PR here. George isn’t being upfront, and it’s easy to see why:  This idea of three necessary conditions is a tough sell, especially to elderly folk who can’t have kids but do want to marry. It’s easier to say something meaningless like “point to” and thus avoid a situation where even your most traditional readers say, But that doesn’t match my real-life experience.

For George to succeed, then, he has to establish two things:

  1. These three items are necessary conditions for marriage.

  2. Only the conjugal/procreative view can meet these conditions; the traditional/common view cannot.

If you break either of those statements, you break his argument.

We’ll break them both.

What is a comprehensive union?

Let’s look at his first item, “a comprehensive union of spouses.”

Marriage is distinguished from every other form of friendship inasmuch as it is comprehensive. It involves a sharing of lives and resources, and a union of minds and wills — hence, among other things, the requirement of consent for forming a marriage.

George is on to something here. The problem is that he seems to think he’s saying something precise. He’s not. With one exception (sex) he never defines what he means by “comprehensive.”

Sharing resources may seem straightforward — joint bank accounts, co-ownership of the home, etc. — but it gets murkier with resources like time and energy. Sharing lives is poetic but inexact. And a union of minds and wills? The meaning of that could be beautiful or frightening. At one point, union of wills meant a woman subordinated her free will to her husband, even to the point that he could have sex with her by force without breaking the law (marital rape used to be seen as a contradiction in terms, a legal and logical impossibility).

So what does comprehensive mean? I hate when people invoke dictionary definitions instead of focusing on the speaker’s intent, but George’s vagueness makes it necessary. I found it to mean of broad scope or content; including all or much.

Now, George has made it clear he doesn’t intend it as all-encompassing. That leaves us with broad scope and including much. That’s vague to the point of uselessness.

There’s another problem: George never bothers to prove comprehensive union is a necessary condition. He merely asserts it, with a nod to what “many people acknowledge.” (Granted, it’s tough to prove a statement that doesn’t even have a clear meaning.)

So there’s no standard here. That a fatal problem for Robert George. If he were more empirical, he might take this insight — this appealing hunch — and flesh it out by looking at real-life marriages. But George is a rationalist: he’s going to treat this idea of marriage as a comprehensive union and build a logical case on it, as if it he’d clearly defined this starting point and proved it beyond doubt.

But he hasn’t. That will haunt him. For now, just keep in mind that comprehensive in no way means all or nothing. Because Robert George certainly forgets it when he talks about sex.

Only a man and a woman can have a comprehensive union.

George starts this out by saying that marriage, as a comprehensive union:

also includes organic bodily union. This is because the body is a real part of the person, not just his costume, vehicle, or property. Human beings are not properly understood as nonbodily persons — minds, ghosts, consciousnesses — that inhabit and use nonpersonal bodies. After all, if someone ruins your car, he vandalizes your property, but if he amputates your leg, he injures you. Because the body is an inherent part of the human person, there is a difference in kind between vandalism and violation; between destruction of property and mutilation of bodies.

Likewise, because our bodies are truly aspects of us as persons, any union of two people that did not involve organic bodily union would not be comprehensive — it would leave out an important part of each person’s being. Because persons are body-mind composites, a bodily union extends the relationship of two friends along an entirely new dimension of their being as persons. If two people want to unite in the comprehensive way proper to marriage, they must (among other things) unite organically — that is, in the bodily dimension of their being.

I’m sympathetic to the general thrust of the argument, as long as we boil it down to Marriage typically involves some sort of physical union. Of course, that’s a much weaker version of what he’s claiming, and won’t take him to the conclusion he wants.

Here’s where his argument breaks down:

Likewise, because our bodies are truly aspects of us as persons, any union of two people that did not involve organic bodily union would not be comprehensive — it would leave out an important part of each person’s being.

He can’t make this claim because he hasn’t defined comprehensive. It’s a fuzzy, ill-defined term that offers no clear dividing line to say: This is comprehensive but that is not.

Accordingly while I’m intuitively inclined to accept that physical contact is a key component of a healthy marriage, I’m skeptical of George’s ability to prove that it’s essential to a real marriage. (Sorry for all the emphasis in that sentence, but the differences are worth highlighting).

Unfortunately, George wants to prove far more than that: Not just that marriage requires some sort of physical union, but that it must be “organic bodily union” — which is his academic, genteel way of saying penis-in-vagina.

That’s one hell of a project.

Tennis. Um, what?

George writes:

This necessity of bodily union can be seen most clearly by imagining the alternatives. Suppose that Michael and Michelle build their relationship not on sexual exclusivity, but on tennis exclusivity. They pledge to play tennis with each other, and only with each other, until death do them part. Are they thereby married? No. Substitute for tennis any nonsexual activity at all, and they still aren’t married: Sexual exclusivity — exclusivity with respect to a specific kind of bodily union — is required. But what is it about sexual intercourse that makes it uniquely capable of creating bodily union? People’s bodies can touch and interact in all sorts of ways, so why does only sexual union make bodies in any significant sense “one flesh”?

I’ll admit this paragraph baffles me. What’s he proven here? Almost nothing.

Here’s his claim: Tennis exclusivity (or any non-sexual exclusivity) is not a sufficient condition for real marriage, therefore sexual exclusivity is a necessary condition for real marriage.

I’m sorry?

Let’s just note: George doesn’t prove that you need more than tennis exclusivity to make a marriage. Yeah, I’m inclined to accept that intuitively, but my intuition also tells me that same-sex marriage is “real” marriage. George can’t rest his argument on my intuition, because my intuition disagrees with him elsewhere.

Ultimately there’s no chain of reasoning here. I don’t know why he drops in the issue of exclusivity — of any sort — at this point in the argument. I don’t know why he jumps from sufficient conditions to necessary conditions. I don’t know why he thinks he can assert that sexual exclusivity is a requirement.

Whether you personally believe it’s a requirement isn’t the issue. George is promising in this piece to reason his way to his conclusions, no matter how intuitively or emotionally appealing they may be. Do I have that wrong? Is he perhaps not trying to reason here, but to offer analogies that illustrate a self-evident truth. But that doesn’t fly — I’ll just claim my own set of self-evident truths, and there conversation ends. No need for a forty-page academic paper published in a law journal.

Finally, there’s this:  why does only sexual union make bodies in any significant sense “one flesh”?

Whoa. Nice introduction of Christian poetry to a non-religious argument. I imagine he wants us to read that poetry and think of procreation. But remember it’s only poetry. He hasn’t established that his undefined comprehensive union requires a literal merging of DNA (and he doesn’t believe that, anyway).

Your spouse is like a stomach.

Moving on, regarding sexual union:

Our organs — our heart and stomach, for example — are parts of one body because they are coordinated, along with other parts, for a common biological purpose of the whole: our biological life. It follows that for two individuals to unite organically, and thus bodily, their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole.

Oh my. We really need to pick this apart. What does he mean by “It follows that…”? He can’t mean the second sentence is a necessary logical implication of the first. He’s just setting up an analogy, and as he well knows, analogies can illuminate an argument, but they aren’t arguments themselves.

Furthermore, his analogy fails. Organs coordinate toward a biological purpose because they are purely biological entities. But a wife is not a stomach and a husband is not a liver. Spouses are not purely biological. They are spiritual, emotional, and intellectual as well. And so is their union. It does not follow that bodily union must serve a biological purpose. It’s enough that it serve any sort of purpose essential to the well-being of the whole.

And sex does (or can do) exactly that. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t understand that sexual intimacy can create emotional intimacy and deepen the commitment of two loving partners. Granted, that’s a subjective experience — if you don’t know what I mean, I can’t prove it you. But if you don’t know what I mean, then I suspect our experiences are so different that we’ll never come to agreement on the nature of sex at all.

Moreover, I worry over his phrase, “biological purpose.” Once again, we’re stumbling over an ill-defined term. This isn’t the middle ages: We don’t live in an era where the body is one thing and the mind is something completely separate. This mind/body distinction hasn’t survived recent discoveries in neuroscience or research into the impact of brain injury on the ability to think and feel. We have much to learn, but we know at least enough to say that “biological purpose” is not a cleanly-cut and well-defined concept, separate from reason and emotion.

Actually, with that in mind, I have to revise what I said earlier. Your digestive organs don’t just serve a biological purpose. Try not eating for a day, and see how well you can think. Try not eating for a week, and see how well you can meet your responsibilities as part of a comprehensive union. Even biological organs don’t just serve our biology.

By the way, I’ll note too that he never defines what it means to “unite organically.” Previously he’s spoken of uniting comprehensively, though he never defined that either. Does he mean something as lofty as uniting as one organism? That’s impossible — even if two parents contribute portions of their DNA to create a child, they still exist in their marriage as two organisms. Or is it more mundane, like the uniting our bodily organs? Either way, he’s sneaking in a new, unjustified, and ill-defined — heck, undefined — concept.

In any case, George has failed to establish that the “comprehensive” (?) union necessary for a “real” (?) marriage requires a physical union serving a “biological” (?) goal.

And frankly, even if he did, it would land him in big trouble later when he tries to defend the “real” marriages of infertile heterosexuals.

Our bodies, ourselves

George writes that:

individual adults are naturally incomplete with respect to one biological function: sexual reproduction. In coitus, but not in other forms of sexual contact, a man and a woman’s bodies coordinate by way of their sexual organs for the common biological purpose of reproduction. They perform the first step of the complex reproductive process. Thus, their bodies become, in a strong sense, one — they are biologically united, and do not merely rub together — in coitus (and only in coitus), similarly to the way in which one’s heart, lungs, and other organs form a unity: by coordinating for the biological good of the whole. In this case, the whole is made up of the man and woman as a couple, and the biological good of that whole is their reproduction.

And a bit later:

But two men or two women cannot achieve organic bodily union since there is no bodily good or function toward which their bodies can coordinate, reproduction being the only candidate. This is a clear sense in which their union cannot be marital, if marital means comprehensive and comprehensive means, among other things, bodily.

This highlights a bigger flaw in his argument: George’s comprehensive union is a strangely fractured union. He views it as a bunch of different unions tied together with string:  There’s a bodily union and (presumably) a mental union, a spiritual union, and an emotional union. But, for no good reason, the bodily union has to have a purely bodily effect for it to count. George cuts it off from other types of union and treats as a separate thing.

That’s especially odd, given that George has said  elsewhere, “Moreover, sexual acts have a tendency, in most people at least, to create a strong feeling of bonding and an expectation of a deeper, noninstrumental relationship.”  We’re just swimming in contradictions here.

Let’s sum this up.

George fails to prove marriage requires an opposite sex couple:

  1. He has yet to define what a comprehensive union is.

  2. He wrongly splits bodily union apart from other forms of union, creating a strange, disjointed notion of “comprehensive union.”

  3. He wrongly argues that in order to contribute to a comprehensive union, bodily union must serve a biological function.

  4. He wrongly and narrowly defines “biological function” to exclude mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

  5. There is therefore no reason to view reproduction as “the only candidate” for the bodily good of a bodily union.

George’s argument is like broken staircase. Every time you climb a step, it breaks. And if you ignore that and leap to the next one, it breaks too.

For all these errors, I do like one notion he’s introduced:  That in exploring “What is marriage?” we should look at things that neither partner can achieve alone, that they can only accomplish together. And I will tell you — once again, as a subjective truth — that a sexual union with my partner (which can be simultaneously mental, emotional, and spiritual) gives me entrance to an existence whose richness I cannot achieve by myself.

I’ll call that an organic bodily union.

Next:  George stumbles badly over the connection between procreation and marriage.

Comments

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Timothy Kincaid
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Marriage is distinguished from every other form of friendship inasmuch as it is comprehensive. It involves a sharing of lives and resources, and a union of minds and wills — hence, among other things, the requirement of consent for forming a marriage.

This is, in my opinion, a brilliant explanation of the difference between friendship and marriage. In the ancient words, “two become one.” Yes, there are compromises made by individuals within the unit (where to live, how to allocate resources), but for a marriage to be healthy, the goals of the marriage are shared.

Using this definition, it is self-evident that same-sex marriages are legitimate and real.

Rob Tisinai
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

That’s the funny thing, Timothy. By the time we’re done with this, we’ll see George unintentionally making a strong case for same-sex marriage.

David in Houston
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

The simple fact that a great deal of heterosexual marriages don’t ever involve having children, makes his “special link to children” less than an absolute necessity.

What about straight couples that adopt children because they’re unable to have children on their own? Is their marriage real? Based on Mr. George’s ideology, I’d have to say no. The couple don’t have a biological “special” link to their child, so their marriage fails to meet Robert specific criteria.

Muscat
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

I suppose it’s a practically useful definition given the distinction our mainstream culture makes between ideals of friendship and marriage, but I don’t think it’s all that brilliant. Friendships can also involve sharing lives, resources, and goals. Our culture even acknowledges this to some extent in such references as saying two friends are “practically married.”

At least in terms of contemporary society, I’m not sure the formal consent/recognition process necessarily flows from what marriage is (in distinction from friendship) so much as it might be that which distinguishes marriage from friendship.

Pacal
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

What is all this empnasis on a “exclusive” union. Isn’t George at all aware that exclusive sexuality, (in the sense of only having sex with the person you are married to), is very much a minority opinion in human history. Men for example have in most human societies been allowed to have lots of sex outside of marriage traditionaly. Therer where often limits such as they could not have sex with other married women etc., but the general rule was the more the better. It was married women who were in most cases expected to restrict sex to their husbands.

So is George saying that those wern’t / arn’t “real” marriages and only his minority, historically speaking, idea of marriage is real?

Of course I expect that what George is getting at is since in some long term relationships between Gay men they have sex, sometimes, outside of relationship the relationship can never be a “real” marriage. So everytime a hetrosexual man or women commits adultry their marriage is no longer “real”?

Matt
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Whoa. Nice introduction of Christian poetry to a non-religious argument. I imagine he wants us to read that poetry and think of procreation. But remember it’s only poetry.

I would recommend steering away from easy dismissals of the Bible or “Christian poetry” generally. I’m sure you didn’t intend it this way, but these lines read a little like “We don’t care what your magical man in the sky says!” Not an approach calculated to win hearts and minds.

I don’t know if you’re religious or not, but dismissing Christianity like this as unworthy of the argument is to accept George’s terms for the debate, where the Christian side is the anti-gay side. Don’t do that.

Amicus
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

third, norms of permanence, monogamy, and exclusivity

It pays to try to trace this line of thought through GGA’s writings.

It’s one of the areas in which they seem to get consistently muddled.

He seems to suggest that these are essential features of marriage, but does he come out and say it? Why or why not?

What is his argument? Does he offer a moral argument, or just an assertion that these three things belong with the others?

What is his essentialist argument or perspective on polygyny? Is it a “real marriage”?

CPT_Doom
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Isn’t George at all aware that exclusive sexuality, (in the sense of only having sex with the person you are married to), is very much a minority opinion in human history.

He also appears to be ignorant that sexual exclusivity is not required for a marriage to be valid. Certainly the failure to maintain exclusivity can be used to dissolve a marriage, but it is not required. Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, John Ensign, John Edwards and so many others have violated that provision in at least one of their “marriages,” yet none of them were required to get divorced (Gingrich and McCain chose to), and certainly people like Bill Clinton are still married despite their lack of exclusivity.

Furthermore, George falls into a trap that most anti-gay people do – that there is only one way to be male or female and that men and women are completely separate and distinct. We know that, given the existence of both transgender and intersex people, gender is not a constant throughout the human species. Therefore any assumption of mutual complementariness between people who happen to have specific sexual organs is faulty.

Ben in Oakland
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

“Marriage is distinguished from every other form of friendship inasmuch as it is comprehensive. It involves a sharing of lives and resources, and a union of minds and wills — hence, among other things, the requirement of consent for forming a marriage.”

T&R: those were my very first thoughts. There is not one thing here that is true for hets that is not true for gay people as well. He has made no argument to exclude gay people from marriage. In fact, every time George tries to make a case for marriage, he ends up making a case for marriage equality as well, except for his insistence on the PIV thing.

But the PIV thing is factually neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for a legal marriage to exist.

Lots of people have sex without intending to reproduce. Many, married or not, intend quite the opposite, and birth control and vasectomies aid that.

Lots of people reproduce without being married. Ironically, one of the communities most vocally against marriage equality because it somehow attacks their families is plagued by multiple children born of multiple mothers by multiple fathers who may or may not be married, or intend to, or can support said spawn.

Some people reproduce without having sex. Some people are married without having sex. Many people are married and cannot or will not reproduce. some gay people have or do reproduce, when we’re not busy adopting the unwanted castoff products of irresponsible, unthinking HETEROSEXUAL reproduction, or supporting them through our built-in-inequality-laden taxes.

“As many people acknowledge, marriage involves: first, a comprehensive union of spouses; second, a special link to children; and third, norms of permanence, monogamy, and exclusivity. All three elements point to the conjugal understanding of marriage.”

Bravo, rob, on catching the use of the word many, and how it is intended to obfuscate, not enlighten. Here’s where it gets worse.

No matter how much George dresses up his wishful thinking in its Sunday-go-to-meetin’ drag of misty-eyed nostalgia and God’s plan for humanity and especially their genitalia, that’s all he’s doing. He’s pretending that what he thinks marriage ought to be is what marriage actually is, and that the opposition to marriage equality is not actually about anti-gay animus (at worst) or (not much better) the belief in (wholly imaginary) heterosexual superiority (for whatever reason), and its concomitant social privileging AND concomitant oppression of the homosexual minority.

Here is the reality of what marriage is, or rather, what this argument is at base about. It is a legal contract that any man and any woman, who are legally eligible to do so, may enter into. Not one of the things he says encompasses marriage is in any way legally required or investigated in order to enter into that contract. The only things required are one man and one woman. you don’t even need to have a penis and a vagina, let alone intend to use them.

And here is the dirtiest little secret of all. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE LEGALLY ELIGIBLE TO GET MARRIED IN ORDER TO BE LEGALLY MARRIED…

…as long as you don’t give the country clerk issuing the license a reason to think you are not legally eligible. You are legal as long as you are not found out or reported by someone who wants to challenge it legally. And has the proof. You can marry your sister if you are willing to lie. I would bet there have been a number of incestuous marriages, all of them done by heterosexuals. Bigamy is not unknown in the heterosexual world.

He’s absolutely right on statement the first, except that half a truth is like half a brick– you can throw it so much further. Ever hear of green card marriages? What about my lesbian and gay clients who married each other to get their very conservative catholic parents off their backs and ensure their substantial inheritances? What about the Ted Haggards of the world? What about the shotgun weddings? What about prenuptial agreements specifically designed to protect resources? what about all of the people who write in to Dear Abby complaining about the abusive, alcoholic spouse who doesn’t work and can’t fuck?

And the grand prize winner: Richard Ramirez, the so-called Night Stalker, imprisoned for life for his crimes against women. He got to marry, while in prison for his crimes, a woman he had never even met, but who really loved (from a distance and with a concrete wall between them) Little Ricky’s truly bad-boy ways with women. Coincidentally– and this is my favorite part of the story– the day of their “comprehensive union” was the very same day that acknowledged serial adulterer and Democratic Bad Boy Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act.

None of these things prevent any man and woman who met five minutes ago and who are legally eligible to do so to get married.

Statement the second? A special link to children? This statement also exists in the never-never-land of George’s imagination. Lots of gay people want children, lots of heteros don’t, and are unfit parents. They only reproduce for no other reason than because they can. We don’t license it or regulate it, let alone instruct people on how not to create a new life that they are totally unprepared to care for. Let alone prepare them to care for it. Or to not abort it. The courts of Washington and New York have gone so far as to claim that marriage exists because of irresponsible straight people wantonly reproducing. We barely demand that people support their spawn, let alone require the parents to marry and provide a family.

The gay people I know that are bringing children into the world are doing so precisely because of their special link to children. At the same time, the newspapers are filled with stories (two in the Chronicle today alone) about parents– usually fathers– killing their children. Physical and sexual abuse are common– now there’s a SPECIAL link for you.

Here’s another one. I can kill my wife and children on Monday, get convicted for it on Tuesday, LEGALLY get married again on Wednesday, father another brood on Thursday, be executed on Friday for my crimes. and my wife will and future brood will be supported by my social security account forever. But my multiple couple friends who have been together more than forty years through thick and thin are barred.

And as for Part the Third? “norms of permanence, monogamy, and exclusivity. All three elements point to the conjugal understanding of marriage.” Nonsense on every level. Again, all you need to be is a man and a woman.

Exhibit one. Newt gingrich. Exhibit two; Liz Taylor.

Exhibit 3: Every gay and lesbian couple who have been together in a monogamous and exclusive relationship for longer than all of Newt gingrich’s and Rush Limbaugh’s marriages combined. Exhibit 4: Every hetero couple that hasn’t.

Legal marriage may assume permanence, monogamy, and exclusivity as norms, but they are not required to be legally married. Nor or they the exclusive domain of heterosexuals.

Permanence? Why is there divorce? Why is there adultery? Why are there jokes about the ‘ol-ball-and-chain? There’s a reason why I almost never heard the phrase “till death do us part” at the thousand or so weddings I’ve been to.

Monogamy? 1/4 to 1/3 of all marriages have had non-monogamy occur within them, according the to best studies on the subject. and those are just the people who will admit it. And it doesn’t include the people who have lusted after other people and who, we are told by god himself, have committed adultery in their hearts. You may have to promise your officiant, your church, and your spouse that you will be monogamous, but it doesn’t mean that you will be, nor is your past or future track record any bar to getting married as often as you are legally eligible to do so– or not.

Monogamy is neither necessary nor sufficient for marriage, it’s just an idea that works for some people and doesn’t work for others, that some people believe in and others do not. Again, all you need to be is a man and a woman. Monogamy has nothing to do with it unless the marriage is ending, ironically enough.

And as for exclusivity? See parts one and two, because all he’s doing here is trying to pad his account by using a bigger word. Some people are sexually unfaithful. Some are emotionally unfaithful. Some are financially unfaithful. Some people should never, ever get married for a zillion reasons, but no one is passing laws against their ability to do so.

Basically, it sounds to me that George has spent 40 pages or so repeating over and over that marriage is one-man-and-one-woman because it just is, that PIV is better than non-PIV because it just is, and that heterosexuality, no matter how base in its expression, is always better than homosexuality, however noble, because…

…wait for it…

IT JUST IS.

Rob Tisinai
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Interesting point, Matt. What I mean to say is that the expression “one flesh” is a lovely poetic phrase from a religious book, which means it does not count as a rigorous definition for Robert George’s purpose, which is to establish a thoroughly secular defense of man-woman-only marriage.

It wasn’t intended as a blanket dismissal of religion, just a reminder that George himself is committed to taking a nonreligious approach in his article, a commitment he seems to be violating by invoking this phrase.

Donny D.
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

I really want to substantively contribute to criticism of the George et al. essay, but whenever I try to read it, I find myself just skimming it or just stopping right after I start.

One huge problem is that it has so many huge howlers, so many individual statements that are on their face blatantly wrong, so many horrendous abuses of logic, so many tawdry all-too-familiar anti-gay tropes throughout, that it’s really hard to even read the f*cking thing! Some or all of these seem to be present at just about any random point where one might start reading.

And it isn’t particularly brilliant or clever even as anti-gay propaganda, at least what I’ve managed to read in it hasn’t been. In its way it’s as pedestrian and unoriginal as George’s other “great work”, the Manhattan Declaration, though thankfully not as dull.

I’m not saying it isn’t important to counter it or that what Rob and the rest of you are doing doesn’t matter, because it very much does. I’m just venting my very personal frustration at dealing with George et al.’s essay.

Rob Tisinai
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

There are a multitude of problems with his reference to the “norms” of marriage, and I’m still working on the language. Basically, though, his appeal to norms is a version of “Marriage is whatever we say it is,” and that’s exactly the opposite of what he’s trying to say.

Ben in Oakland
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Donny– you have it exactly. i didn’t want to get into literary criticism.

Timothy Kincaid
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

(and if I haven’t said it already, brilliant work, Rob!!)

Throbert McGee
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Ironically, one of the communities most vocally against marriage equality because it somehow attacks their families is plagued by multiple children born of multiple mothers by multiple fathers who may or may not be married, or intend to, or can support said spawn.

Er, which “community” are you talking about here? (The “multiple mothers” part made me think of fundamentalist Mormons, but the “multiple fathers” part made me think of unmarried black women who have several children by various men.)

MarcusT
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Marriage is distinguished from every other form of friendship inasmuch as it is comprehensive. It involves a sharing of lives and resources, and a union of minds and wills…

It might not be the norm in our culture, but there are always going to be some people who have platonic life partners (especially if they’re asexual or celibate), and I don’t see how it’s anyone else’s business to object to friends who love each other “sharing their lives and resources” or getting married.

(BTW, can someone let me know how to do the blockquotes?)

Erin
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

I see some commenters making a few responses to the statement George made that marriage requires monogamy, sexual exclusivity, whatever you want to call it. Some comments I’ve read have pointed out this was not required in marriages of past societies, and also that people get to legally stay married even if they’ve been caught cheating on their spouse, but I didn’t see ( and I admit I didn’t read all the comments) the very simple point that same-sex couples have the same ability to stay monogamous that heterosexual couples have. As for the nature/biology arguments they always throw out: Those arguments only ever focus on one facet of nature/and biology:sexual reproduction. How about the greater purpose us gays serve? I don’t think it would ever be a good thing to say all or even most of the members of any species should reproduce. There are issues of overpopulation and in any species, those members who for numerous reasons are unfit parents. Also, our species is one of the ones where we have a sense of obligation toward the good of others (some of us anyway), and so we adopt offspring that have been rejected by their natural parents. Not every species does that. LGBT people have the same ability to adopt and care for discarded children that infertile straight couples have. Whether or not we can reproduce through our sex acts is absolutely irrelevant to the question of our being allowed to have legally-recognized unions.

@Matt: Religion has absolutely no place in this debate, whether one is faithful or not. George’s purpose in writing this article was to dissuade people from supporting same-sex union recognition under the law. It fails miserably, as all other anti-gay marriage arguments do to establish any valid legal reason why two members of the same sex who have each met the partner they love and trust more than any other person they know can’t enter into a legally-recognized status that carries benefits such as sharing insurance, having the next of kin status to make medical decisions, having hospital visitation, survivor benefits, etc. The fact is same-sex relationships can and do satisfy that emotional connection and sharing of goals that George refers to. We don’t go around scrutinizing straight couples and quizzing them to make sure they have a super intimate emotional-connection, they share goals, and they are uniting “organically” only with each other in order to let them choose to seek a marriage license. We let people choose who they want to be their partner that will carry that legal status that affords them over a thousand federal rights and protections, because we know the contract is binding, and we know there are avenues they must go through if they want out. The law ought to give me a chance to designate someone to have that status, and I want that status to belong to the person I love and trust the most in this world. George has failed miserably so far to give one valid reason I can’t choose to enter into such a legal status with a consenting adult partner of my choosing just because my chosen partner happens to be a woman like me.
@ Rob: I think you’re great for taking this on. I always enjoy your posts and the videos you post on youtube. I agree with what you say about sex enhancing an emotional bond. To me, there are different kinds of love, and people who are in serious, romantic relationships have what I consider a full-package kind of love. My partner is also my best friend. I also feel a strong duty to protect her. And of course I share with her a physical intimacy I don’t share with anyone else. I can’t feel that for anyone else, much less a man. If I ditched the emotional bond I have with my partner and found a guy willing to bond “organically” with me, I still could never have the “comprehensive” marriage George is referring to. The love wouldn’t be there. But somehow I don’t think George cares about that. As soon as I say I’m willing to invite a penis into my vagina for the rest of my life, then George would automatically offer the proverbial rubber stamp of approval to get married. He and his ilk insist we should either be in loveless, dishonest, emotionally-adulterous marriages with the opposite sex, or else accept that we will never have a loving, committed relationship that the law will offer us an opportunity to be recognized. And all of this rests on a very very very limited perception of what constitutes important biological functions of human beings. No sir, I’m not impressed by the credentials. This academically-late-blooming state college senior history marriage is not at all impressed by the same old ignorance wrapped up in slightly fancy and extremely vague terms.

Erin
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Correction: “state college senior history *major*.” Oops. I’ve got sleepy eyes.

Erin
February 18th, 2011 | LINK

Erm, ok, basically I second Ben in Oakland. He pretty much said everything. Bravo, sir.

ZRAinSWVA
February 19th, 2011 | LINK

Ben in Oakland, I think you’ve managed to distill it down perfectly. A concurring bravo, sir.

Rob, great job. I especially like this statement “George’s argument is like broken staircase. Every time you climb a step, it breaks.”

Exactly.

Reed B
February 19th, 2011 | LINK

“Ultimately there’s no chain of reasoning here. I don’t know why he drops in the issue of exclusivity — of any sort — at this point in the argument. I don’t know why he jumps from sufficient conditions to necessary conditions.”

It may be that there is little/no chain of reasoning and things jump around oddly because this is the work of three people.

I’ve only scanned through a couple of essays by the other two credited writers, but this screed has a flavor of having been “Frankensteined” together.

Désirée
February 19th, 2011 | LINK

I’m more concerned with his insistance that “permanence” rather than exclusivity is somehow a necessary condition for a marriage. Unless he can predict the future, no one knows if a marriage will be permanent when it happens. Sure we hope it will be, but some aren’t. Is George claiming that any marriage that ends in divorce wasn’t a “real” marriage? Can he retroactively declare a marriage not real, when original, it met his criteria for a “real” marriage?

Seems to me, as long as “permanence” is a criteria, no marriage can be said to be “real” until one spouse dies, thus guaranteeing that divorce will never occur.

Amicus
February 19th, 2011 | LINK

Let me answer my own questions above, because they were not intended to be a criticism of Rob, just what was on my mind.

The answer is that in this section, at least, GGA introduce the terms “exclusivity”, “exclusive”, and “permanent”, without arguing for them as qualifiers, at all. The question of why this was done remains. It could be simple oversight, or it could be intentional slight-of-hand. Also, the technical question of why he chooses to locate those concepts as “norms” is not clear in this section.

Here’s another attempt to shorthand the thrust of this section:

1. Because sex organs are already oriented toward procreation, there is no need for the participants in nongay sex acts to intend procreation for “coordination” to a human good to obtain.

2. Because sex organs are already oriented toward procreation, there is no possibility for participants in gay sex acts to “coordinate” to a human good.

Following Koppleman (and Rob above), I has to say that #2 looks false. It wouldn’t be too hard to outline why, without violating GGA notion’s of body-personhood (even less so, if you find gayness a “natural” orientation for some).

“Comprehensive union”, “bodily union” and “organic bodily union” all seems like unhelpful verbiage. [Again, they are very thinly presented. We can understand people as non-bodily, easily, viz. “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off, …” runs quite counter to GGA’s passage.] In an uncharitable reading, this verbiage is there, not to elucidate, but to obfuscate: it’s deceptively inviting to say, “gays can’t have organic bodily union” than to conjecture, “do loving gay couples achieve a human good”?

As for #1, if there is no distinction in intent, then it is hard to see how this proposition does the lifting it needs to.

Without intent, how is this a moral argument, exactly, and not just a biological observation about who can and cannot procreate?

Let’s ask the question, “What about rape?”. Well, then, suddenly, there are going to be a lot of restrictions and statements about the intent of the sex act, because rape surely can be ‘oriented toward organ bodily union’ or have ‘a procreative form’.

To distinguish among nongay sex acts, you are going to have to start defining the sex act in terms of intent, and that will take the form, “a marital sex act has (or doesn’t have) these intentions” and, following GGA, it may or may not have the intention of procreation.

You can start to see the problems (and perhaps why it may be that the Catholic Church says you must always intend procreation…).

It does seem like, when you start to distinguish among nongay sex acts, you make it possible to compare them directly to gay sex acts (was it done “lovingly”, was it part of a “mind and wills”, etc.); and, if you admit that there does not have to be any intention of procreation, then you give up almost any ability to distinguish the two sexual relationships (or even other conceptions of _nongay_ marriage that consider procreative aspects as incidental, not essential, yet still highly important).

Again, falling back on the biological form of union (‘organic union’) because there is no distinction in intent among worthy or qualifying sex acts, seems empty because you’ve *admitted that nongays can intentionally act in a moral way out of alignment with the “orientation” of their biological ‘form-personhood’* (or, perhaps more precisely, *one* of the orientations, as there could be others to be satisfied as well…), which makes form incidental, not essential, no?

Does this line of attack open the door to polygyny, incest, and bestiality? Not especially, I don’t think so. You?

Is it guilty of attacking a position, without advancing anything? Again, no, it’s just critical thought.

Is it a radical revisionism? I don’t think so. One could view procreation as non-essential to marriage and yet have a belief that public policy and/or norms should encourage and support childrearing in the context of long-term family formation, good parenting, etc., no? (Indeed, one could have the view that grounding a public policy in procreation is a dangerous invitation to abuse!). Nor must these criticisms result in a world in which there is no sensible public good called “marriage”, because it has been “defined away”. That just seems a non sequitur, because this critique doesn’t negate the human good of nongay pairings…

There may be something to rescue their position, so I’ll keep digging. Until, then…

Désirée
February 20th, 2011 | LINK

another problem with George’s “organic body union” or whatever other nonsense he uses instead of penis-in-vagina sex is that he ignores transsexuals entirely. Now, as a Catholic, I’m sure he’d prefer that TS people didn’t exist, but we do so he has to deal with us.

So my question to him is this: is a post-operative male-to-female transsexual allowed to marry a man since they will be engaging in penis-in-vagina sex, even though no procreation is possible, much like any other infertile couple?

Or, since a MTF’s reproductive system is biologically male, must MTFs only marry women in order to achieve an “organic bodily union” i.e. complementary reproductive systems, even though no penis-in-vagina sex will be occurring and to the rest of the world this would appear to be a lesbian marriage?

Or does he instead say that TS people once post-op can’t have a “real” marriage” at all even if it was “real” marriage prior to surgery and thus would deny TSes the right to marry anyone?

Priya Lynn
February 20th, 2011 | LINK

Excellent questions Desiree, I’d love to here what George would have to say about it.

Priya Lynn
February 20th, 2011 | LINK

Donny D said “I really want to substantively contribute to criticism of the George et al. essay, but whenever I try to read it, I find myself just skimming it or just stopping right after I start.”.

I would greatly appreciate hearing what you have to say about their essay.

Richard Rush
February 20th, 2011 | LINK

Does anyone know if George has a record of exploring “what is marriage?” prior to becoming aware that same-sex couples wanted to participate? I doubt a record exists. It seems obvious that his definition is not shaped by any general exploration of the subject over the course of his career, but is shaped entirely by his focus on the specific category of people he wants to exclude from marriage. For obvious reasons, the whole emphasis on PiV “comprehensive organic bodily union” as a core (or possibly THE core) component of the definition would not have been a productive argument 45 years ago if George had been writing against inter-racial marriage.

If George had been deeply concerned about marriage throughout his career, I would have expected a focus on the myriad P/V-marriage issues that Ben in Oakland discussed in his great comprehensive comment on Feb. 18. I would have expected him to propose more limitations on marriage qualifications than we have currently (P/V combo, minimum age standard, and blood-relation limitations). And given how procreation is viewed at the core of marriage, wouldn’t George have been expected to propose laws whereby procreation requires marriage, and marriage requires procreation except for a few enumerated exceptions? But, no, for George, the only important proposal is to define marriage in a way that justifies laws to exclude same-sex couples.

Amicus
February 20th, 2011 | LINK

George has a record. There is another nat law guy Finnis, who is a contemporary but 15 years older than George.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Finnis

There is a very expensive book that I do not have access to (The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, And Morals), which outlines their public policy stance on the matter. I see it has come down in price – I think I’ve seen it as high as over $100 on Amazon.

Frankly, I think it is hilarious that they collection of essays freely available. Consider the irony: they argue for a particular view of the _public_ policy, the “_public_ good”, but then they make that view singularly hard to be informed about, especially in the day of electronic transmittal. (As I recall, you used to have to get e-mail permission from someone on their website just to download their ideas…what’s up with that!?).

Of course, many, many thinkers have considered these issues over hundreds of years, perhaps not in the context of gay marriage, but nevertheless. So, it wouldn’t be hard for George to hone a theory quickly. (The great Christian Father, Origen, reportedly castrated himself, for instance).

With that in mind, some of the objections that Ben raises are delt with at another level of analysis.

Still, his article is brief enough on a full explanation that one could easily re-title it, “Why Gay Marriage Doesn’t Qualify”, since he really hasn’t offered a full view of “What marriage is”, just the cross-section of one that seems to suit.

Désirée, I don’t want to reconstruct GGA’s view, unless necessary, but, to the extent we don’t want to be an echo chamber for each other, I’ll toss up this: George might say that transsexuals are not ‘oriented to procreation’. He could distinguish them from infertile couples, biologically.

Priya Lynn
February 21st, 2011 | LINK

So Amicus, you figure Geoarge would say transexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry at all, and if married prior to sex reassignment surgery he’d say that that marriage should be annuled after?

Timothy Kincaid
February 21st, 2011 | LINK

I don’t think it’s too far out on the limb to assume that George thinks that transexual persons are simply deluded individuals who mutilated themselves thus removing their access to marriage to anyone. He probably pities hermaphrodites (sorry, I can’t think of the correct term) but sees them as called by God to celibacy.

Remember, George’s goal and thinking are driven by apologetics, not by curiosity.

Amicus
February 21st, 2011 | LINK

Priya, yes, I think he would follow Catholic doctrine on the matter (as TK suggests); and, as I understand it, that would mean no marriage (or ordination) for transfolk.

However, I think the case of a prior marriage could be problematic (a/k/a an interesting philosophical challenge), if the couple wanted to stay together.

Désirée
February 22nd, 2011 | LINK

Yes, my marriage would be “problematic” for him. Fortunately, I don’t give a rodent’s hindquarters whether he thinks my marriage is “real” or not. It’s real to me and it’s real to my wife and it’s real in the US where we got married and it’s real in Sweden where we live now.

This just exposes a fundamental flaw in his notion of declaring some marriages real and others not based on some arbitrary criteria of his choosing. By all his criteria, we had a “real” marriage in so far as I once had a penis that could if we so desired go into her vagina. Of course, to the rest of the world, we looked like a lesbian couple but I didn’t find appearance or clothing choices or desire for SRS as criteria in George’s conception of “real” marriage. Now as a post-op, we have the same marriage (that is, we didn’t end our marriage and get remarried) but there is no longer the possibility of penis-in-vagina sex taking place.

So did our previously “real” marriage now become not real? Once again, George’s definition of “real marriage” requires a crystal ball to predict the future since if we once had a “real marriage” but now we don’t, then it wasn’t real in the first place, but that only becomes known in hindsight. If his criteria can’t determine which a “real” marriages and which aren’t without relying on future events, then they are useless descriptors

Donny D.
February 22nd, 2011 | LINK

Priya Lynn wrote:

I would greatly appreciate hearing what you have to say about their essay.

Priya, in being only partway into an analysis of it, I’m struck by how profoundly deceptive the authors’ argument is, and how rotten and shaky it is as a logical structure. Just in the pages I’ve gone through so far, it’s really surprising how many logical fallacies are packed in there, as well as other unfair debating tactics. And then there is the already large number of anti-gay tropes that they’ve larded their writing with, some of them relatively subtly implied.

Beyond all that, I’m not sure that all so very much is going on intellectually. Some of the arguments are convoluted, or worded in a convoluted manner, but the arguments themselves so far aren’t particularly sophisticated, nor are the concepts that are advanced hard to grasp. I may be missing something, but I think more effort may be required in stripping the b.s. off the argument than in actually addressing the argument. So most of the effort may be in demonstrating that the b.s. is b.s. What’s left that can be straightforwardly stated I suspect won’t take the lion’s share of energy or verbiage to dispose of.

Ben in Oakland
February 22nd, 2011 | LINK

Doony– pointing out the total b.s. of it was what my rather lengthy post was about, especially the conclusion. The logical and inteelectual fallacies are important, but in basic real world terms, the reality of what marriage is does not conform to George’s story about it, and never did. not legally. not culturally, not experientially.

He uses a lot of language to disguise the fact that his assumptions match his conclusions, as Rob has pointed out so well.

As I always like to say, not all bigotry is based on ignorance, fear, unconsciousness, hatred, or religious belief. A good portion of it is based upon the always present, always assumed, occasionally admitted to, always believed in, but otherwise wholly imaginary superiority of heterosexuality of homosexuality.

Amicus
February 22nd, 2011 | LINK

Désirée,

There are couples for whom one of them may have, say, a serious car accident, and no longer be able to engage in “conjugal sex”, in the way that George contemplates it. I don’t think the Catholic Church would opine that their marriage ended.

Also, the case of a vasectomy or tying of tubes is a parallel set of considerations. I don’t believe Catholic teaching is that a marriage ends or is denied, based on these factors, even if it is considered “wrong”.

There may be ways of dealing conceptually with these situations.

However, it is not possible to ignore them and make a claim, as George does, that they have a ‘consistent moral position’ and that is all they need in order to carry the day in court OR in the court of public opinion, perhaps.

Brad Carmack
November 2nd, 2011 | LINK

Good points, everyone. I make some similar ones, focusing on the biological problems with George’s argument, in my presentation “And They Shall Be One Flesh: Why Robert George’s What is Marriage? Falters.”

Watch my presentation here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfYqQe-VnHU), download my slides here (http://www.slideshare.net/BradCarmack/and-they-shall-be-one-flesh-why-robert-georges-what-is-marriage-falters), and read my paper (http://www.scribd.com/doc/69140224).

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

If you were an Aristotelian, as you claim to be contra Dr. George’s “Platonism”, you would understand the concept of teleology. Therefore, you would understand where he is going with the argument regarding the (empirically) purposeful parts of the body, and by extension, the purposefulness of the sexual parts, the teleology of which requires the opposite sex, and which categorically can never find their telos in relations to the same sex.

Priya Lynn
June 12th, 2012 | LINK

Shaun, if you had any connnection to reality you wouldn’t be trying to push that pseudo-intellectual hogwash.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I am suggesting that Mr. Tisinai
does not fully understand, or is misappropriating, Aristotelian concepts in favor of his argument. Mr. Tisinai states that he is following Aristotle’s empiricism, while Dr. George is following Plato’s rationalism. I am suggesting that he is misunderstanding Aristotle, given the essential role that teleology (derived from empirical study, or extrapolation from empirical study) plays in Aristotle’s ethics, politics, physics, metaphysics and cosomolgy. I am not sure how that is “pseudo-intellectual” or “hogwash”. Perhaps you would care to elaborate, given your expertise on intellectualism to the extent that you are capable of differentiating genuine intellectualism from pseudo-intellectualism?

Or perhaps you are referring to Dr. George’s “pseudo-intellectualism”? I was not aware that Harvard and Oxford gave advanced degrees to pseudo-intellectuals, nor was I aware that Princeton employed them in tenured positions. If Dr. George is a pseudo- intellectual, there is no such thing as an intellectual.

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Sorry, Shaun, but I have to disagree. In this article I rip up any claims George has to teleological coherence by pointing out the arbitrary and limited nature of his conception of “organic bodily union.” Once that’s been demolished, and once we realize that a physical union can have non-physical goals (as I point out above) the door opens to other for other avenues of teleological thinking.

George’s strange assertion that a bodily union is only meaningful if it serves a biological purpose, along with his outdated Cartesian split between what is biological and what is not (just look up the relationship between sex, oxytocin, and intimacy, for example) leads me to conclude that George is NOT relying on “empirical study” but doing the sort of armchair analysis that would have delighted Plato but irked Aristotle.

And by the way, your invocation of Oxford, Princeton, and Harvard are meaningless — you’re just committing the fallacy of “appeal to authority” as I’m sure you know. I’m sure you also know that it’s quite possible for a good intellectual to engage in pseudo-intellectual hogwash

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I think you have misunderstood the argument presented in the paper, if you think that it attempts to look to physical union as the ONLY standard. Rather, they attempt to show that for a comprehensive union to occur (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.), complementary physical union is necessary, and is only possible in, as you term it, “penis-in-vagina” unions. This is due to the “telos” associated with the sex organs. This telos, or purpose, for Aristotle, and Dr. George, is discovered through empirical observation. Sex organs are unique, I believe they want to argue, in that their telos can only be fulfilled in male-female sexual union. This is in contrast to other systems, such as the circulatory system, or the respiratory system, which represent closed systems; their purpose is self-contained and fulfilled within the individual.

They address the issue of teleology (though it is not named, but as an Aristotelian, you should be able to identify it) here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2263

and here:
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2277

They present further defenses for the article here(…in case you have not seen this. I understand this is a bit old and you may have seen all this before; if so, I apologize):

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2217

and here:
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/01/2295

As to the charge of “pseudo-intellectualism”, I understand that appealing to institutions of higher learning equates to nothing more than an appeal to authority, but the question at hand is “What constitutes intellectualism, in contradistinction to pseudo-intellectualism?” Is the standard simply whether one agrees or not? Obviously not (I would hope). Therefore, it may be the case that we have divergent conclusions resulting from genuine intellectual analysis (on any particular issue, not just the one at hand – as the saying goes “Intelligent people can disagree”). My point was that dismissing someone as a pseudo-intellectual, is, as I am sure you know, committing the fallacy of ad hominem, and is lazy way out for those who do not wish to enegage the arguments on their own terms (similarly, dismissing the arguments as pseudo-intellectual does much the same, though avoiding ad hominem).

In fact, the reason why I have carefully read your critique of the article is because upon reading your first post I was convinced that you were doing real intellectual analysis, despite my disagreement, and because of the credit you gave to the arguements of Dr. George et al, despite your disagreement.

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Keep shoveling it Shaun. You won’t impress anyone but you should be able to grow a decent garden.

What a blowhard.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Brilliant response! You sure got the best of me, Priya Lynn.

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Of course I did Shaun. Anytime someone feels a need to discuss “teleology” as though it were a real thing its clear they are disconnected from reality, don’t care that they are disconnected from reality, and are ultimately concerned with trying to sound smart rather than making rational arguments.

Believes in teleology = moronic blowhard.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Aristotle = moronic blowhard? Hmm…

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Absolutely. In that area Aristotle was a moronic blowhard, just like you.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

First, I doubt you understand the concept.

Second, I have not said that I believe it, only that Mr. Tisinai
seemed to be overlooking that aspect of Aristotle’s philosophy when he aligned himself with Aristotle against Dr. George. I have said nothing about what I believe, only about the way I read Dr. George’s paper, and the way in which Mr. Tisinai presents Aristotle.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I will, however, welcome any time you wish to say that I am like Aristotle. Thanks!

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I couldn’t care less what you think I understand. If you didn’t believe it you wouldn’t have said “I have not said that I believe it.” you would have said “I don’t believe it.” When someone goes on about teleology as though it were a serious concept meriting discussion its obvious they’re just a moronic blowhard.

Aristotle had an excuse, the knowledge of nature was primitive back then, you however have no excuse.

Priya Lynn
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I’m done here, return to your navel gazing.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

You have made assumptions about my beliefs and have attacked me personally. You have called me names and insulted my intelligence, all while knowing absolutely nothing about what I believe, full stop.

Now, my original post was addressed toward Mr. Tisinai, and as such, I will await his reply to my rejoinder.

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Rather, they attempt to show that for a comprehensive union to occur (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.), complementary physical union is necessary, and is only possible in, as you term it, “penis-in-vagina” unions. This is due to the “telos” associated with the sex organs. This telos, or purpose, for Aristotle, and Dr. George, is discovered through empirical observation. Sex organs are unique, I believe they want to argue, in that their telos can only be fulfilled in male-female sexual union.

Shaun, you can repeat that as often as you like, but until you respond to the substance of my last comment (explaining why a complementary physical union does not require a biological goal), I’ve got nothing more to say.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I suppose I am not certain what you mean by “biological goal”. Can you elaborate? Further, I suppose I am not clear as to why it must not have a biological goal. This seems to be a bit of Cartesianism on your part.

It seems that the standard is not arbitrary, as you assert, and that it is rooted in Aristotilian empiricism. That is to say, empirical study of body organs point to purposefulness within the systems (indeed, the very terms “organ” and “organism” point to this as well).

The nature of the “human thing” (“humaness”, if you will) includes mental, emotional, and physical (biological) aspects. The point being made by Dr. George seems to be that empirical observation of the function of the heart, for instance, points to purposefulness within the circulatory system. In the same way, the sex organs exhibit “purposefulness”, and are apparently complementary in their nature. Indeed, for that particular system to “operate” toward its “goal” or “end”, the complementary nature of sex is necessary.

It seems, then, that Dr. George is asserting something like “In order for ALL aspects of the mental, emotional and physical requirements to be joined, as they are in marriage, complementary sexual union must be possible.” This would seem to categorically exclude same sex marriage, if true.

This is further elaborated in the links I posted, so I would encourage you to look at them. I’d be interested to know what you think.

Reed
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Shaun Patrick Riley – you come very late to the discussion indeed.
“Biological goal” = “fucking to make babies” (in Robert George’s world view).
Clear? Or need I restate it cloaked in pretentious mounds of polysyllables and wreathed with similar bloviative excess?

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

From a non-Cartesian point of view (on the non-religious or naturalist side), all human function is reducible to biology, so I am afraid it is not as clear as you make it seem.

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Shaun, I’m referring to this quote from George (included in the post above):

“It follows that for two individuals to unite organically, and thus bodily, their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole.”

I still don’t see you addressing in any way my arguments I’ve reiterated in the past few comments.

Thanks for the links. I’ll look at them eventually, but for the moment my non-work hours are occupied by Regnerus’s flawed (and perhaps dishonest) comments on same-sex parenting.

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

From a non-Cartesian point of view (on the non-religious or naturalist side), all human function is reducible to biology, so I am afraid it is not as clear as you make it seem.

In that case you’ve just demolished George’s argument, at least from a non-religious or naturalist perspective.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

One more thing on teleology. Which scientific experiment or observation led to its being discredited as a legitimate way of thinking about nature?
Or was it undermined as a result of assumptions put forward in Francis Bacon’s “Novum Organum”, Descartes’ “Discourse on Method”, and other early modern works based on an assumption that Aristotle’s “formal” and “final” causes were outside of the purview of what can be “known” in the sense of scientific knowledge?

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

“In that case you’ve just demolished George’s argument, at least from a non-religious or naturalist perspective.”

Explain?

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Simple. George says that to achieve organic bodily union, the union must serve a biological purpose.

You’ve pointed out that any good human result good be described as biological.

Ergo, it’s not necessary that the biological purpose of the sexual organs be procreative. Rather it’s enough that they enhance human experience in any way (because “all human function is reducible to biology”).

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

And I’m afraid I’ll have to stop here, Shaun. Too much else to do. Feel free to leave more comments; I’ll come back and check them out. Thanks for a worthwhile discussion.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

I think you are overlooking what he is saying about the nature of the organic bodily union. It seems to me that he is saying that it must not serve JUST ANY biological function; it must serve its “intended” biological function.

In other words, pleasure, while potentially reducible to biology, is not the intended biological function of sexual activity. The pleasure associated with sexual activity is rather “intended” to promote procreation; it is not an end in itself. While it can be enjoyed as an end in itself, it is subjective, and as such, does not rise to the level of a “public good”.

The idea of intentionality in nature is important, because it cuts to the heart of the debate, and touches on a much larger debate between ancient and modern thought. I should point out that, despite the way in which it is often framed, it need not have religious implications; for Aristotle, it was not a question of WHY things in nature seem to have intentionality, but only THAT they did; and as such, any exhaustive account of nature must include it.

At any rate, I certainly appreciate your willingness to engage. Thanks!

Timothy Kincaid
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Shaun,

You talk about an “intended biological function”. However, that presumption only makes sense if there is an intender. You can appeal to Aristotle, but it’s not a very convincing appeal. In reality your intent is that Catholic Doctrine be upheld by Natural Law and the Aristotle discussion is a pretense.

Ultimately your argument is nothing more than “God says” dressed up in pseudo-emperical pretenses.

Timothy Kincaid
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Shaun,

Now, my original post was addressed toward Mr. Tisinai, and as such, I will await his reply to my rejoinder.

Rob was gracious enough to reply. However, I’ll remind you that demanding that others take the time to respond to you does not obligate them to do so.

And as for the “I’m right unless you prove otherwise” nonsense (Which scientific experiment or observation led to its being discredited as a legitimate way of thinking about nature?) it really is more of the same.

You seem to have a rather inflated view of the extent to which the world should rush to meet your demands. If we all must dedicate time to presenting you with proofs for your perusal and dismissal, I’d rather just let you be deluded.

chiMaxx
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Yes, it’s so terrible when we use our nose not for its empirically intended biological function–to detect smell–but to hold up our glasses.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Aristotle has no such “intender”, yet he maintained the concept of teleology. You are anachronistically inserting “God” into the discussion of Aristotelian teleology (though admittedly, it is difficult not to do in a post-Aquinas intellectual landscape). It is most certainly NOT an appeal to divine command; divine command theory is a completely separate concept.

I am not sure I DEMANDED that anyone reply. Priya Lynn had jumped into the conversation, but rather than adding anything or addressing the ideas, had proceeded to insult me, despite the fact that I had not even put forward an opinion of my own except to quibble about the understanding of the particular readings mentioned (Dr. George and Aristotle, specifically), and therefore I wanted to refocus on my original points and move away from the distractions brought about by Priya Lynn. Thus, my intent was not to demand that Mr. Tisinai respond in any particular time frame. My intent was rather to indicate my unwillingness to engage in petty name-calling and further distraction from the issue at hand, and further, to state that I was interested to engage with Mr. Tisinai (but not with Priya Lynn), should he so choose to respond. I appreciate Mr. Tisinai’s willingness to engage with me on this important issue.

Finally, I still have not specifically put forth a view of my own, outside of attempting to clarify what I understand to be Dr. George’s and Aristotle’s arguments, therefore I most certainly have not said anything resembling “I’m right unless you prove otherwise”, in terms of teleology or scientific method. My point there was to show how Priya Lynn’s dismissal of me and insulting my intelligence on the basis of my simply bringing up the idea of teleology ( A concept crucial to Aristotle) is itself based on nothing more than the dismissal by the early moderns (Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, etc.) of that Aristotelian idea, NOT on the basis of their own method, but rather on philosophical presuppositions about the nature of reality.

I might also note that it is Mr. Tisinai who has first brought Aristotle up as a topic of discussion (in the very first installment of this series), and has appealed to Aristotle as an authority.

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Shaun, you know how people say, “Everyone is either a Platonist or an Aristotelian”? Well, I brought up Aristotle mainly to point out that there is a general approach to the question “What is Marriage” that’s quite different from George’s Platonic strategy, which seems to go down the path of rationalist Ideal Forms rather than empirical analysis

It wasn’t my intent in bringing up Aristotle to create a thoroughly classical Aristotelian analysis, so the question of teleology is really peripheral to what I’m doing here.

Really, my goal was to point out the difference between rationalism and empiricism, which I call out more specifically here: http://wakingupnow.com/blog/a-quick-story-of-rationalism-empiricism-and-balance

However, I’ve enjoyed our conversations on teleology. I do think Timothy has a strong point when he says that “intended” implies an “intender.” As for my own views, you might enjoy reading this: http://wakingupnow.com/blog/on-purpose

Sorry — I wrote this comment quickly. Hope it’s clear.

Timothy Kincaid
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

You are anachronistically inserting “God” into the discussion of Aristotelian teleology

Not really.

As it turns out, I happen to know that Aristotle never left this comment in the discussion about a movie:

This movie is a sickening barage of homosexual propaganda. I can only pray for the salvation of our once great nation when I see what our culture has disintigrated to.

I have little patience with pretenders and frauds, especially the “I never said” variety.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

A rebuttal of “Not really” doesn’t cut it; you should explain yourself, or refrain from rebuttal at all.

Good job on the Google search; you are aided by the fact that I have a uniquely spelled name, and that I don’t hide behind screen-names.

In this discussion I never specifically made my thoughts known, I stuck attempting to clarify arguments from the readings which have been referenced, as far as I can tell. Please point to the part where I editorialized beyond clarification of readings, if you think that I did.

You are engaging in ad hominem, and doing it poorly; what I may or may not what written at some time in the past has absolutely no bearing on the issue at hand, or on the arguments for or against the issue at hand.

As the Comments Policy on this sight indicates:

“…commenters may be moderated or banned for persisting in any of following behavior:
• Ad hominem attacks. Please frame your discussion around what someone says, not who someone is.”

It would seem that dredging up things written in the distant past which are completely irrelevant to the arguments contained within this dialogue are an attempt to discredit me as a person rather than the points that I am making, a tactic which is not only in poor taste and a fallacy, but is in violation of the rules of this site.

Finally, I believe I wrote that close to, or perhaps more than 5 years ago. My views have evolved quite a bit since then, as the views of a thinking person should.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Rob, I understand what you are saying, but it seems that the idea of teleology is inherent in both the philosophy of Aristotle, as well as the argument that Dr. George is making here; I am not sure it can be separated out from either.

I am clear on the balance between rationalism and empiricism, I am just not sure that Dr. George’s arguments are rationalistic in the sense that you wish to portray them, but instead, they seem, to my mind, to have much more in common with Aristotle’s empiricism, in that it begins in the senses, that is, observations about the way that things are/work, and proceeds from there.

Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out! Once again, its been a pleasure, sir.

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

Quick reply to your take on “Purpose” on your blog: granted that purposes for man-made things fit the description you ascribe. Things which man makes, man may also unmake, or remake in any way he pleases. This assumes, however, that it is man-made, which is problematic when dealing with things which are not man-made, such as things found in nature, or the parts of living organisms (as noted earlier, the very term “organism” points to order: it is derived from the Latin “organum” meaning mechanical device, and is also the root word of “organization”).

Thus, you have assumed that marriage is a convention constructed my man. Dr. George makes a different point: he says that marriage predates society, and is intrinsic to human nature; thus, it is not a construction of man, and thus, is not subject to redefinition at will, in the way you indicate that it should be. This, in fact, may be the rock-bottom crux of the issue, on which one’s position on this will dictate the position on the issue as a whole.

This article by Dr. George, et al (also linked to above) deals with this issue:

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/12/2263

Rob Tisinai
June 13th, 2012 | LINK

No, Shaun, I don’t buy that. Marriage can be more than an arbitrary infinitely-malleable social construct, and yet still be a construct of humanity, in that it’s rooted in human nature and would never have been created without that human nature (for it was, in fact, created at some point; else it would not exist).

Shaun Patrick Rieley
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

I didn’t expect that you would buy it, but I do think there is something to be said for the idea. Your analogy to a chair is interesting and correct for anything which is simply made by humans, for human use. I simply want to point out that I am not sure that marriages and chairs are categorically similar, and so it seems that the analogy breaks down.

It seems, then, that you have an unjustified assumption about the nature of marriage which skews your analysis (I will admit that Dr. George may also have the same issue, but it seems that if you wish to declare victory through “demolishing” Dr. George’s argument, you should avoid any reasoning mistakes that you assert that he has made, or admit that either view is reasonable, once the premises are admitted.)

I am curious, then, as to what you believe to be the limits of malleability might be, and for what reason? What is the purpose of the construct, if it be a construct, such that limits may be assigned with a view toward its “proper” function as understood through appeal to human nature?

One more note to Mr. Kincaid:
Of course I have an interest in this issue, and thus a point of view. It doesn’t take a detective to figure that out. If I didn’t, I would not spend my time reading extensive analysis of major contributions to the debate, nor would I bother posting on a site which is clearly hostile to my point of view. I have made it perfectly clear from the outset that I disagree with Mr. Tisinai, and I am sure that it is clear that I am sympathetic to Dr. George’s position.

What I do not appreciate is the way in which you and Priya Lynn wish to insult me or discredit me in order to avoid dealing with the points which I am bring to bear. This is an important issue (a point on which I am sure we all agree), and as such, it deserves to be treated with careful thought and robust debate. The attempt to stifle debate through ad hominem attacks is unhelpful and distracting.

Timothy Kincaid
June 14th, 2012 | LINK

Thus, you have assumed that marriage is a convention constructed my man. Dr. George makes a different point: he says that marriage predates society, and is intrinsic to human nature; thus, it is not a construction of man, and thus, is not subject to redefinition at will, in the way you indicate that it should be.

Okay, so the legal state-recognized structure called marriage predates society and is intrinsic. It is objectively observable to be so. It is intended but not by an Intender.

And that is your defense of George?

Okay, you run with that and see where it gets you.

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