Monday, February 19, 2018

Drunk stoned perverted dead


The immorality of perverting a faculty is far from the whole of natural law moral reasoning, but it is an important and neglected part of it.  The best known application of the idea is within the context of sexual morality, and it is also famously applied in the analysis of the morality of lying.  Another important and perhaps less well known application is in the analysis of the morality of using alcohol and drugs.  The topic is especially timely considering the current trend in the U.S. toward the legalization of marijuana.

Before proceeding, the reader is asked to keep in mind that “perverted faculty arguments” in traditional natural law theory deploy the concept of perversion in a specific, technical sense.  The perversion of a human faculty essentially involves both using the faculty but doing so in a way that is positively contrary to its natural end.  As I’ve explained many times, simply to refrain from using a faculty at all is not to pervert it.  Using a faculty for something that is merely other than its natural end is also not to pervert it.  Hence, suppose faculty F exists for the sake of end E.  There is nothing perverse about not using F at all, and there is nothing perverse about using F but for the sake of some other end G.  What is perverse is using F but in a way that actively prevents E from being realized.  It is this contrariness to the very point of the faculty, this outright frustration of its function, that is the heart of the perversity.

There is also nothing necessarily perverse about using some thing other than one’s own natural faculties in a way that is contrary to its end (e.g. using a toothbrush to clean the sink rather than one’s teeth, or using a plant or animal for food).  Moral reasoning is about what I, the moral agent, ought to do.  It is because certain acts would actively frustrate my own natural ends, which are constitutive of what is good for me, that they constitute a perverse exercise of practical reason.  Doing what frustrates some other thing does not per se frustrate my own natural ends, and thus is not intrinsically perverse in the relevant sense.  (It may or may not be wrong for some other reason, but that’s a different question.)   As I have suggested elsewhere, perverting a faculty is in this way comparable in its irrationality to a performative self-contradiction.

I have spelled out the nature of perverted faculty reasoning in detail in my article “In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument,” from my anthology Neo-Scholastic Essays.  I respond there to all the standard objections, most of which are based on misunderstandings.  The uninitiated reader who objects to the perverted faculty reasoning that follows is urged to read that essay before commenting, because odds are I’ve already answered your objection there.  For example, please don’t waste your time or mine by raising tired purported counterexamples like the use of ear plugs, a sterile married couple having sex, etc.  I’ve already explained in the article why these do not count as perversions of a faculty.

On to our subject, then: The standard natural law position is that the use of alcohol or drugs is always and intrinsically immoral when (a) it subverts reason, and (b) it does so for the sake of an end which is not itself prescribed by reason.  If conditions (a) and (b) are not both met, then the use of alcohol or drugs is not always and intrinsically wrong (even if certain circumstances might make it wrong).  Let’s elaborate on these two conditions.

First, what counts as subverting reason?  Merely altering one’s mood is not problematic.  As the Thomistic natural law theorist John C. Ford notes in his book Man Takes a Drink: Facts and Principles about Alcohol, the natural law position regards the use of alcohol as legitimate when it merely leads to “a mild lift, or a comfortable sense of relaxation – a mild euphoria” (p. 52), or “mild relaxation, or mild exhilaration, or cheerfulness” (p. 56).  One’s reason can still be perfectly in charge of one’s behavior in this case.  (Thus does Proverbs 31:6-7 say: “Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.”)

The trouble comes when reason is either no longer in charge or its control is impaired.  This would be true, for example, of someone who has drunk so much that he cannot think or perceive clearly, or whose moral inhibitions have become relaxed, or whose other inhibitions are lowered to the point where he does things he would otherwise be too embarrassed to do, or whose motor skills have been impaired. 

What about condition (b)?  Doing something that one knows will suspend reason is not always and intrinsically wrong.  For example, as Aquinas writes:

For it is not contrary to virtue, if the act of reason be sometimes interrupted for something that is done in accordance with reason, else it would be against virtue for a person to set himself to sleep. (Summa Theologiae II-II.153.2)

The kind of rational thing a human being is is a rational animal, and our animality requires us to sleep, which temporarily interrupts reason.  This is not contrary to our nature, because the whole point of sleep is precisely to preserve the health of the whole rational animal.  Similarly, when for the sake of surgery we take an anesthetic, we temporarily suspend reason but are not acting contrary to reason, precisely because our aim is to preserve the whole organism of which reason is a faculty.  For the same reason, when alcohol or drugs are used for medical purposes even though it is foreseen that they will subvert reason, such use is not necessarily wrong.  The situation is analogous to the amputation of a diseased body part for the sake of preserving the whole body.  Reason temporarily suspends itself precisely for the sake of preserving itself.

What is wrong is when reason is subverted for the sake of something inferior to reason, as when someone deliberately drinks to the point of suspending reason merely for the sake of the more intense sensory pleasure this would bring.  Reason subverting itself for the sake of something inferior to reason is perverse, in the “perverted faculty argument” sense of the word.  It is reason acting directly contrary to (rather than merely other than) its own natural end.  It essentially involves a rational animal deliberately trying to make of himself, if only partially and temporarily, a non-rational animal.

Naturally, there are also other considerations that make intoxication morally problematic, such as the risks to health and safety it can pose.  But it is the perversion of the rational faculty that makes it always and intrinsically wrong to use alcohol or drugs to the point of subverting reason for the sake of mere sensory pleasure.  It is a kind of self-mutilation of rationality, the highest and distinctive human faculty.  Ford writes:

It is interesting to note that some theologians treat of drunkenness, especially habitual drunkenness, under the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”  The Fifth Commandment, besides forbidding murder and self-destruction, is taken to forbid self-mutilation and to command a reasonable care of one’s own life and health.  There is also a psychological appropriateness in considering drunkenness a kind of suicide.  Especially for the alcoholic, each cup has a little death in it, a little of that oblivion which he seeks, consciously or unconsciously. (p. 74)

Ford’s thesis that the drunkard or stoner seeks a kind of temporary suicide of his rationality is lent support by the way descriptions like wasted, smashed, bombed, hammered, stoned, dead drunk, etc. are used approvingly.

A common libertarian rhetorical trick is to speak as if there is hypocrisy or inconsistency in approving of alcohol while disapproving of other intoxicating substances.  This is quite silly and overlooks an obvious distinction.  It is easy for most people to use alcohol in the moderate way that results merely in the “mild exhilaration” or “cheerfulness” that does not subvert reason, and a great many people do in fact habitually use it in precisely this way.  By contrast, many other drugs are used precisely for the sake of attaining a high that subverts reason.  If someone approves of recreational alcohol use only insofar as it does not subvert rationality, and disapproves of the recreational use of other drugs only insofar as they do subvert rationality, then there is no hypocrisy or inconsistency at all. 

To be sure, it is true that sensibilities about what substances it is licit to use in moderation can be to some extent culturally relative and reflect mere prejudice.  Ford gives an amusing example to illustrate the point:

It was only a few hundred years ago that the devout priests of a certain religious order in Europe protested bitterly against the introduction of coffee at breakfast.  They maintained it was expensive, luxurious, imported and exotic, not in keeping with religious poverty, and not befitting men dedicated to God.  They insisted on retaining their traditional breakfast beverage, which was beer. (p. 58)

All the same, not all misgivings about the use of a drug are based on mere cultural prejudice, and the imperative of avoiding the deliberate suspension of reason provides an objective and clear criterion by which to distinguish substances that can be used in moderation and those that should be avoided altogether. 

As Plato warned in the Republic, egalitarian societies tend to be increasingly dominated by the pull of the lower appetites, and increasingly impatient with the counsel of reason.  As with our society’s ever deepening immersion in sins of the flesh and the rise of the ridiculous “foodie phenomenon,” accelerating laxity with respect to drug use reflects this decadence, rather than more careful and consistent thinking about the subject.  If you won’t listen to Plato, at least listen to Animal House

120 comments:

  1. "For example, please don’t waste your time or mine by raising tired purported counterexamples like the use of ear plugs, a sterile married couple having sex, etc. I’ve already explained in the article why these do not count as perversions of a faculty."

    The earplug example intrigued me, but you address it in your paper in a very cursory fashion. Unless I missed something, this is the entirety of your rebuttal: "Hence examples like ... the use of earplugs (which though artificial facilitate the realization of our natural ends insofar as they protect the ears from excessive noise, facilitate sleep, etc.) ... simply miss the point of the argument."

    I'm not asking to troll, but just to understand the nature of the argument: Suppose that someone wears earplugs to stop all noise, not just "excessive" noise. And suppose that she wears them not to facilitate sleep, but simply because she enjoys blissful silence. On the face of it, she is using the ear itself to hold in the earplug that is preventing that very ear from functioning.

    She's not using the freedom from distraction to accomplish anything else. She just gets direct hedonic pleasure from the silence. Let's stipulate that she's not doing anything obviously irresponsible, such as wearing them while driving. But, every once in a while, when she has no obvious contrary obligations, she likes to lie down, put those earplugs in place, and just bliss out on pure quiet.

    Is she perverting a faculty?

    Again, her only purpose for using the earplugs is to bring about the pleasure that silence gives her. It seems like you can't say that her actions "facilitate the realization of our natural ends" unless you want to call her pleasure a natural end. But doing so would seriously muddy the waters for the use PFA to criticize masturbation.

    One could try to argue that, while her pleasure isn't a natural end, some natural consequence of the pleasure is a natural end, such as her being released from the other stresses of the day, or the equanimity of mind that she has after a dose of silence (even if these aren't her conscious ends). One could argue that these natural consequences legitimize her use of earplugs. But people make the same arguments in favor of masturbation, so this seems like a dangerous tack for the PFA proponent to take.

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    1. From Greg's comment @February 19, 2018 at 1:16 PM below, it sounds like Aquinas allows that her pleasure can be a natural end in itself. (Is that right?)

      If so, here is one way for the PFA proponent to save his case against masturbation, while not accusing our earplug-user of perverting her faculties. He could hold that (1) pleasure is a higher end than hearing, but that (2) procreation is in turn a higher end than pleasure.

      In that case, the PFA proponent can allow that she isn't perverting her hearing faculty. For, since her pleasure is a higher end than hearing, it's permissable to sacrifice hearing temporarily in the service of pleasure (under some circumstances), even when the ears themselves are the means used to accomplish this sacrifice. But pleasure is not a higher end than procreation, so it's never allowed to use the instrument of procreation to frustrate the faculty of procreation in the service of pleasure. That might be a consistent position.

      But is that a position that Feser would endorse?

      If so, what is the case for the claim that pleasure is a higher end than hearing?

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    2. Earplugs are a way of not using a faculty at all, which is not a perversion. You must be using the faculty in order to pervert it.

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    3. [Comment replaced because of confusing typos.]

      The distinctive shape of the ears, designed for the purpose of hearing, is being used to hold in the earplugs, which block hearing. A part of us intended for a particular purpose is being used to frustrate that very purpose. That is what makes faculty-perversion wrong, isn't it?

      But I don't want to get derailed on this point, because it doesn't seem essential. If you won't grant that using the shape of the ears counts as using a faculty, then suppose that the woman in my scenario uses her hearing to locate the earplugs. Maybe she asks someone where they are and hears the answer, so that she can use them. Or maybe she is blind and she finds the earplugs using echolocation. At any rate, suppose that she's using her hearing faculty in order to use the earplugs to block her hearing faculty.

      And even while wearing the earplugs, it's not as though she isn't using the faculty of hearing. Her mind continues to register what her ears continue to report, which is that no sound is reaching them. But she is using her ears to block those ears from reporting on her surroundings, which is their purpose.

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    4. (1) Moral obligations only arise in the context of common good; in cases where human common good is not involved, the perverted faculty argument indicates that something is unreasonable but not (directly and in itself) morally wrong. There does not seem to be any implications for common good in this case; thus we are not dealing with an immediately moral question (although it could have moral implications in a bigger context), but merely asking about whether it is unreasonable to try to hear silence.

      (2) Sensory faculties are quasi-automatic; thus they are not usually things that fall directly under our use (which in the context of this argument requires voluntary action) at all. We don't 'use' hearing. We hear. When we say that we are using our ears, we usually just mean we are paying attention, which is not the relevant sense of 'use'. Conceivably there are weird cases where this is not so, but there's usually a big contrast here with sexual cases; we very, very obviously use the organs for our sexual faculty, and the use we make of them is very much in our control, and that is what is being considered in considering the morality of masturbation.

      (3) "...suppose that the woman in my scenario uses her hearing to locate the earplugs." There is obviously nothing immoral or even unreasonable about using hearing to hear where something is. It's a normal case of hearing; thus there is nothing that can be pointed to as a perversion of the faculty itself. It's not a relevant case.

      As David says, one has to distinguish perverting a faculty and not using or exercising it. But it's also the case that you don't have a perversion of faculty if the frustration of the faculty isn't involved in the use of the faculty.

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    5. It is the power or faculty of hearing that needs to be used not so much the external ear. Otherwise I'm using my faculty of hearing just by putting a paperclip on my earlobe. One might as well say closing your eyes is a perversion. If you can find Steve Jensen's book "Good and Evil Actions" he discusses this topic in a little more detail than Ed's article apparently does.

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    6. Feser, in his article, does suggest that ear piercings might count as perverting a faculty if they ever got to the point of impairing the owner's hearing. He says that, if this is a valid PFA, then it's an example of a PFA giving an intuitive answer ("piercing to that extent would be bad"), and so it shouldn't be seen as a barrier to accepting PFA arguments in general.

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    7. Feser, in his article, does suggest that ear piercings might count as perverting a faculty if they ever got to the point of impairing the owner's hearing. He says that, if this is a valid PFA, then it's an example of a PFA giving an intuitive answer ("piercing to that extent would be bad"), and so it shouldn't be seen as a barrier to accepting PFA arguments in general.

      I don't see that this would be an application of the PFA. It is just bad to maim your body parts to the extent that their function is impaired. You don't need a notion of the perverted use of those body parts to see that.

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    8. “….Earplugs…. Silence.. Natural Ends….?

      Quote:

      ….Grisez cites the use of earplugs; “walking on one’s hands [which] interferes at least temporarily with their proper function”; “smoking [in which] we use the respiratory system in a way which does frustrate its proper function to a considerable extent”; “hanging rings in one’s ears or nose, [which] by stretching them out of shape, may lessen their effectiveness”; “ingest[ing] some food and drink by mouth for satisfaction although for medical reasons the stomach constantly is pumped so that nothing is digested”; and “lactation” in which “there is excess milk and it is pumped out of the breasts and thrown away” even when the infant is fed artificially during such times (1964, pp. 28–30). Other alleged examples sometimes given by critics are shaving, chewing gum, using antiperspirant, and even damming rivers. Such examples are often presented as obviously devastating, when in fact they have no force whatsoever against the argument when it is properly understood. Here it is important to keep four points in mind….. End quote. (…from “In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument”…).

      Those four points are then applied. Another feature to recall is the metaphysic of privation as per http://disq.us/p/1jp6my0 which subsumes not “this or that part” but in fact the entire topography of our own reality.

      scbrown(lhrm)
      ~

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  2. Dr. Feser,

    Wait, so does this mean enjoying food porn for the sake of the pleasure it allures one to is also immoral?


    Or watching cooking / food shows for the enjoyable prospect of eating alone?


    Does this then also entail that it is against the natural law to fantasise about delicious food to bring oneself pleasure, in the same way it is against the natural law to fantasise lustfully for pleasure?


    Is this also what you are saying?

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    1. JoeD: "Does this then also entail that it is against the natural law to fantasise about delicious food to bring oneself pleasure"

      To make a PFA along these lines, you would have to make the case that this use of your reason is somehow preventing your reasoning itself from attaining one of its natural ends. How exactly is that happening in your scenario?

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    2. As the post began: The immorality of perverting a faculty is far from the whole of natural law moral reasoning, but it is an important and neglected part of it.

      I don't think that all looking at food with anticipation to making and eating it is bad. The anticipation of pleasure is one way our animal nature gets us to do things we need to do. The prospect of eating is an important factor in motivating people to hunt, gather, farm, and cook. That's fine. There also can be an aesthetic and technical element to the preparation and enjoyment of food that goes beyond sensual pleasure.

      But I think it is also possible to act immorally in "enjoying food porn". That one conceptualizes it as "food porn" might constitute evidence of inordinacy. (But also 'food porn' is a term that has just come into common use, so one "enjoying food porn" need not be thinking of oneself as engaging in the scale of sensuality involved in pornography.)

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    3. @Greg,


      So in other words, looking at food or fantasizing about food for the sake of pleasure, without the desire for foreseeable satisfaction of such actions, is a permissible avenue for pleasure, as long as it doesn't go too far and is kept within common sense?

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    4. Well, that's not what I said. I said that there are various contexts in which it wouldn't be bad to take pleasure in the appearance of food or the prospect of eating. Whether it still isn't bad outside of each of those contexts--when you are just doing it for the pleasure--is a different question.

      Aiming at pleasure is actually not always bad, owing to the place pleasure can have in a good human life. I don't think the principles applied in this case are any different from those applied to play generally, and I can't improve on Aquinas' way of putting it:

      Now such like words or deeds wherein nothing further is sought than the soul's delight, are called playful or humorous. Hence it is necessary at times to make use of them, in order to give rest, as it were, to the soul. This is in agreement with the statement of the Philosopher (Ethic. iv, 8) that "in the intercourse of this life there is a kind of rest that is associated with games": and consequently it is sometimes necessary to make use of such things.

      Nevertheless it would seem that in this matter there are three points which require especial caution. The first and chief is that the pleasure in question should not be sought in indecent or injurious deeds or words. Wherefore Tully says (De Offic. i, 29) that "one kind of joke is discourteous, insolent, scandalous, obscene." Another thing to be observed is that one lose not the balance of one's mind altogether. Hence Ambrose says (De Offic. i, 20): "We should beware lest, when we seek relaxation of mind, we destroy all that harmony which is the concord of good works": and Tully says (De Offic. i, 29), that, "just as we do not allow children to enjoy absolute freedom in their games, but only that which is consistent with good behavior, so our very fun should reflect something of an upright mind." Thirdly, we must be careful, as in all other human actions, to conform ourselves to persons, time, and place, and take due account of other circumstances, so that our fun "befit the hour and the man," as Tully says (De Offic. i, 29).

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    5. Now such like words or deeds wherein nothing further is sought than the soul's delight, are called playful or humorous. Hence it is necessary at times to make use of them, in order to give rest, as it were, to the soul.

      Just to insert a comment: Aquinas thinks that play really doesn't end at an end further than pleasure. But man also "needs" pleasure for a certain reason: relaxation from more serious things. There are two tiers of justification here. It is ok for an action to have no further end than pleasure. One does not go wrong simply in aiming at pleasure; one goes wrong rather in giving pleasure the wrong sort of place in one's life. (Or, as he goes on to say, in seeking pleasure in what is for other reasons less than virtuous.)

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    6. JoeD wrote:

      Is this also what you are saying?

      ?? I didn't say anything remotely close to any of those things.

      Some people are excessively interested in food, is all I meant. The key word is "excessive." Nothing I said implies that it is inherently bad to fantasize about food, or watch food shows, etc. Nor did that passing remark have anything at all to do with perverting a faculty. Remember, as I said, that's just a small part of morality.

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  3. It is easy for most people to use alcohol in the moderate way that results merely in the “mild exhilaration” or “cheerfulness” that does not subvert reason, and a great many people do in fact habitually use it in precisely this way. By contrast, many other drugs are used precisely for the sake of attaining a high that subverts reason. If someone approves of recreational alcohol use only insofar as it does not subvert rationality, and disapproves of the recreational use of other drugs only insofar as they do subvert rationality, then there is no hypocrisy or inconsistency at all.

    When I saw this post I was wondering whether you would count as disagreeing with Peter Geach's remarks on alcohol and marijuana in The Virtues. I suppose you probably don't. It seems that on this view it can be permissible to use marijuana, certainly for medical purposes and even I suppose for recreational purposes (acknowledging of course that a society might have reason to ban it in one case or the other).

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  4. A minor point about lowering inhibitions: Surely not every case of alcohol lowering inhibitions is wrong. Some people are quite shy, and having a few drinks can make them more talkative and more outgoing, which is certainly a form of lowered inhibition. And of course our inhibitions are lowered all the time, which can happen at a concert or another large event, or even when having a completely sober good time with close friends.

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    1. As Ed stated, a key element is acting in accordance with reason. If your inhibitions are unreasonable, it seems perfectly admissible to me to use alcohol to reduce them to "reasonable levels". Naturally, there is a limit after which the loss of inhibition becomes unreasonable, drugs or not.

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  5. A blog post on perversion by a philosopher of Greek tradition needs a mention of Diogenes.

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  6. "There is also nothing necessarily perverse about using some thing other than one’s own natural faculties in a way that is contrary to its end (e.g. using a toothbrush to clean the sink rather than one’s teeth, or using a plant or animal for food). Moral reasoning is about what I, the moral agent, ought to do. It is because certain acts would actively frustrate my own natural ends, which are constitutive of what is good for me, that they constitute a perverse exercise of practical reason. Doing what frustrates some other thing does not per se frustrate my own natural ends, and thus is not intrinsically perverse in the relevant sense. (It may or may not be wrong for some other reason, but that’s a different question.)"

    If Dr. Feser ever writes a book on morality, I would like to see this explained fully. It is not self evident why frustrating your own intrinsic ends is wrong while frustrating someone or something else's natural ends is fine.

    Incidentally, I know that only substances really have the kinds of natural ends we are talking about. So, an artifact doesn't really have any intrinsic purposes, only purposes imposed from without by human intention. Neither does a natural phenomenon like a river have the kind of intrinsic unity necessary for us to say that it has any intrinsic ends other than those of its constituent parts.

    If any one else here besides Dr. Feser has reading suggestions on this issue, I'd be very interested.

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    1. In other words, why is it fine to kill an animal (or plant, for that matter) for food, while it is wrong to masturbate?

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    2. I have to say that I find myself constantly baffled in these contexts that people won't just do as I advise and read the fricking article rather than raising these sorts of questions here in the combox. Again, it's all in there.

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    3. Oh, for fuck's sake!

      I have read your perverted faculty article quite closely and no you do not explain why it is not wrong for a human being to frustrate the natural ends of another substance.

      I'm looking at p. 406 of Neo-Scholastic essays, where you briefly mention that the perverted faculty argument does not entail that there is anything wrong with interfering with the natural processes of plants and animals. What's completely missing is any explanation of why it is wrong to interfere with one's own ends, but fine to interfere with the ends of other substances.

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    4. This is not true. He goes on to say, with respect to the very claim you mention,

      "Nor is there anything ad hoc about this, for the whole point of the argument is simply to draw out the implications of the Aristotelian-Thomistic position that what is good *for us* can in principle only be what is consistent with the realization of our natural ends. And neither artificial devices, nor the pursuit of ends other than our natural ends, nor interference with non-human natural processes are inherently contrary to the realization of our natural ends."

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    5. Maybe you think there is enough material in the article to make an argument on this issue, but the argument isn't actually in the article.

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    6. Gee, I'm sorry to put you out, Thursday. 'Cause, you know, unlike you I've got gobs and gobs of time for this crap.

      You may have read the article, but you obviously missed the whole point. I was not referring to some brief remark on p. 406 or whatever, and I'm not talking about some obscure ingredients from which an answer to your question might be reconstructed.

      The whole way the PF argument is formulated in the article should make the answer obvious. The issue is what it makes sense for a rational agent to do from the rational agent's own POV (given A-T metaphysics, of course). The perversity is not essentially a matter of frustrating some end or other. The perversity has to do with me, the rational agent, frustrating my ends. It has to do with choosing, as if it were good for me, something that cannot as a matter of metaphysical fact be good for me.

      There's simply nothing in this argument that implies anything about it being bad to frustrate the ends of other things, or frustrating ends in general. I not only made this point at length in the article , but I developed it further in the post linked to above on the analogy with performative self-contradictions, and I explicitly repeated it in this very post too!

      So, why you think there is some kind of inconsistency, I have no idea, because nothing in the argument entails what you think it does. Again, there simply is no premise to the effect that frustrating ends per se is bad. That's exactly one of the common misunderstandings it is the point of the article to dispel.

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    7. Because morality is solely concerned with voluntary actions performed by the self (and possibly the state in terms of social morality / ethics). Plants are not moral agents, so there is no use talking about plants frustrating their faculties. Humans may frustrate other animals and plants faculties insofar as they help achieve the ends of humans. So for example, frustrating the eating faculties of rats so as to prevent the spread of disease and damage to homes is legitimate insofar as it helps humans achieve their ends of having a safe home. That does not mean everything apart from humans is fair game, though. Insofar as humans are stewards of creation, one could argue that excessive or unnecessary violence towards creation (burning forests for fun or torturing animals, for example) would actively frustrate our caregiving faculty. Eating a steak does not frustrate this faculty because it is served for the higher good of preserving the human being. Masturbation on the other hand does not serve any higher end. It merely serves the end of immediate pleasure. In so doing, the masturbator perverts that which should be reserved for binding and generating the family (insofar as sex has unitive and procreative powers). Then when sex IS used properly, instead of having the unitive powers it normally has, it may be seen as a mere means for pleasure which may tempt a man or woman to frustrate the procreative end as well. Once sex is degraded (through masturbation) to the status of a mere pleasure outlet, objectification of and infidelity to ones spouse becomes much easier. I would look at our porn consumption and divorce rates as evidence that the desanctifaction of human sexuality has led to a huge rift in the Western family and therefore the Western State at large.

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    8. It has to do with choosing, as if it were good for me, something that cannot as a matter of metaphysical fact be good for me.

      This is the kind of explanation that is actually completely missing from the article. It's never explained there why the sort of argument advanced in the article only apply to rational agents. It's just an unexplained premise of the argument. Read the perverted faculty article again. It's not in there.

      So, maybe the misunderstandings are due to poor (or absent) communication of some of the underlying premises of natural law morality.

      -----

      Thanks, Scott.

      -----

      BTW, I'm not unsympathetic to the perverted faculty argument. I just think that some big chunks of the background are missing from the article. Which, quite predictably, lead to misunderstandings!

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    9. Thursday,

      I apologize for being a bit testy. It's been a long day and I'm tired.

      But I do think you are missing the point, and missing it badly. I suspect that what you are doing is starting with an abstract thesis to the effect that there is in general something wrong with frustrating the end of a thing, and then trying to figure out why any analysis would end up limiting that general rule to rational agents.

      But that simply gets things the wrong way around. There is no such general rule in the first place. The right place to start is with the nature of practical reason as understood in the A-T metaphysical framework. The badness of perverting a faculty follows from its being a faculty of the rational agent himself and the irrationality of pursuing what frustrates his own natural ends. It's not a point about natural ends in general, but about what it is to be a rational agent. If anything, it's a mystery why anyone would think that the argument does have anything to say about natural ends in general.

      You say that this is not in the article. But it's not just in the article, it is the article. Anyway, what you need to do is explain why the idea should be extended beyond rational agents -- and to do so in a way that doesn't rest on a misunderstanding of the argument. Just repeating that it's not in the article to my mind only reinforces the judgment that you simply missed the point.

      The idea that there is in general something wrong with frustrating the end of a thing is not only not a premise of the argument, it is something no Thomist or Aristotelian would ever say. The whole natural order works by way of things frustrating each other's ends. E.g. lions frustrate the ends of elks (by killing and eating them), bacteria and viruses frustrate the ends of organisms (by making them sick), water frustrates the natural tendency of fire to burn things (by putting it out), etc. etc.

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    10. In honour of that post on science dorks you wrote a few years ago;

      I don't think lions eat elk. Just like rocks not naturally intending towards the bottom of the earth disproving final causation, I have just disproved the perverted faculty argument

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    11. Lions don't eat elk because the two species don't live in the same climate, but if a lion had the opportunity to eat an elk, it probably would.

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    12. Thanks for that response, Ed. It's good to know that the PFA only addresses a narrow question.

      I suppose what Thursday might be interested in then is whether the PFA can be applied to the ends of other beings, esp. rational agents such as other human beings. For example, why might someone not frustrate the ends of another human being? If, for example, X engages in masturbating another person Y, then clearly Y's sexual faculties are being frustrated, no? Y is morally culpable insofar as he has consented, though he is not the one actively frustrating his faculties (that requires some explanation, too, I think), but what can we say of X who has not frustrated any of her own faculties? If she has any moral responsibility here at all, then it must be because she is frustrating the sexual faculties of another human being.

      (Apologies if this is addressed in the aforementioned book. I don't have it handy at the moment.)

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    13. Callum, he's probably referring to mountain lions.

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  7. Would you say that Iran’s traditional cultural acceptance of opium smoking (which is still called an “old people’s drug” there and is smoked by the elderly, even though it’s now illegal, although they are now considering re-legalizing it) is against the natural law? Did a society as conservative as Iran get this one natural law-related thing totally wrong?

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    1. Perhaps relevant: Iran's older generation grew up under the Shah and liberal principles. Also, how much opium are we talking?

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    2. The tradition goes back much further than the Shah. And it’s not just Iran. For an even more conservative society, see Afghanistan and their traditional opium use.

      Off the top of my head, I can also think of certain mountain tribes in Southeast Asia. And of course, there’s China.

      If you want an example closer to home (so to speak), try Victorian England. Opium in oral form was completely legal was extensively used in Britain for all sorts of reasons, including recreational ones.

      How much? Well, as with everything you had a minority of users using way too much, a minority doing a tiny bit, and the majority somewhere in between.

      Or are you asking how much opium would be morally permissible?

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  8. Also, this:

    “A research note published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (PDF) found that, when adjusting for other factors, having a detectable amount of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) in your blood did not increase the risk of being involved in a car crash. Having a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.05%, on the other hand, increased that risk by 575%.”

    0.05% is hardly a huge amount of alcohol. It’s what a female of average weight has in her system after drinking two or three beers.

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  9. I just published an article on this very topic in the Winter 2017 issue of NCBQ.

    https://www.pdcnet.org/ncbq/content/ncbq_2017_0017_0004_0605_0614

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    1. Also see this recent post on Public Discourse: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/01/20650/

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  10. Marijuana is not for everyone, but for some people it is very enjoyable and enlightening for the emotions.

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    1. Or maybe you just think it is because your reason is impaired.

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  11. Nothing to say except I appreciate the reference to the National Lampoon documentary, which was very good.

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  12. As Plato warned in the Republic, egalitarian societies tend to be increasingly dominated by the pull of the lower appetites, and increasingly impatient with the counsel of reason.

    There are two and only two societies: egalitarian and authoritarian.

    "Oh golly, you can't be left with your sinful appetites in egalitarianism! That would leave you overrun by your lower urges. Here, allow me to be your master while I keep you under slavery so you can preserve your innocence!"

    This warning about decadent appetites is just a paper-thin excuse for instituting an authoritarian (i.e. pro-slavery) society. And make no mistake that all authoritarian societies fundamentally believe that enslaving others is good, even if the slavery takes different forms.

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    1. Amongst the many fallacies in your post, one of the most striking is that you have more or less defined non-egalitarian as slavery. This alone allows your rant to have the semblance of an argument.

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    2. (1) As there is no fully egalitarian society, this is obviously false.

      (2) Lower appetites, not decadent; the Platonic critique is that demokratia bypasses reason in favor of preference, and therefore makes way for increasingly violent and coercive appetites.

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    3. "There are two and only two societies: egalitarian and authoritarian."

      No there aren't.

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    4. What iwpoe said. I'm not sure why you would think that is the case. Perhaps because liberalism seems to view all authority with suspicion, and all prohibition as authoritarian?

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    5. As there is no fully egalitarian society, this is obviously false.

      There is no society without mosquitos either. But that doesn't mean that I'm doing whatever I can to make the extinction of the mosquito a reality.

      Perhaps because liberalism seems to view all authority with suspicion, and all prohibition as authoritarian?

      I do view all authority with suspicion, but I don't view all prohibition as authoritarian. It is not authoritarian, for instance, to prohibit the ownership of guns (Nazi gun control theory being just an unproven conjecture).

      Much of natural law theory has many authoritarian "coincidences". For instance, it's not categorically wrong to kill humans but it is categorically wrong to lie. Now if you start to think about it, it JUST SO HAPPENS that masters need to kill in order to maintain their iron grip on the slaves, and it JUST SO HAPPENS that it is much easier to maintain iron grip on the slaves if the relationship is information asymmetrical. So ISN'T IT CONVENIENT that there are situations when killing is right (just like the masters need it) and ISN'T IT CONVENIENT that lying is always wrong irregardless of situation (just so when the masters ask you "are you hiding any slaves" you can keep your peace and they can figure out that the answer is yes).

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    6. As there is no fully egalitarian society, this is obviously false.

      Yes, the current United States is a slave society. The slavery is nowhere near as bad as it can be, but it is still slavery because it involves the extraction of labor for free.

      The closest societies there are to slave-free are probably the Scandinavian countries.

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    7. There is no society without mosquitos either. But that doesn't mean that I'm doing whatever I can to make the extinction of the mosquito a reality.

      This is a completely irrelevant line of argument. Your claim was that societies are only egalitarian or authoritarian; which is obviously a falsehood, as your replies concede.

      The closest societies there are to slave-free are probably the Scandinavian countries.

      If extraction of labor for free is your standard of 'slavery', then you obviously know nothing whatsoever about Scandinavian countries.

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    8. Tomislav, you're being conspiratorial and chaotically inconsistent.

      > It is not authoritarian, for instance, to prohibit the ownership of guns [...]

      That would depend, wouldn't it. If the intent and the effect is to prevent a populace from legitimately defending itself against a violent authoritarian regime -- the very authoritarians you are so afraid of -- then that prohibition would by definition be authoritarian in nature.

      > Much of natural law theory has many authoritarian "coincidences".

      This is where you've derailed your train of absurdity into the tar pits of insanity and circumstantial ad hominem. It's superficial. You haven't given any arguments that show where natural law theory is mistaken w.r.t. lying and killing. One wonders if you even even know the arguments for the natural law position on these subjects.

      > Yes, the current United States is a slave society.

      It isn't a slave society. I will, however, concede that it is an oligarchy. Certainly, distributists would think so.

      > The closest societies there are to slave-free are probably the Scandinavian countries.

      This is where you ought to define what you mean by "slave" because you've been throwing it around quite loosely and in a way that does not correspond to the commonly accepted definition. I don't expect you to supply us with one given your general emotionalism and the sloppy character of your posts.

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  13. There is nothing wrong with marijuana. There is no free will. Retributive justice is retarded. As more people realize this rather obvious fact, Feser and his ilk will fall into the pit of irrelevancy. The Catholic Church will finally end, and we can finally move forward.

    And the wolf shall lie with the lamb.

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    1. Go away.

      Everyone, please remember Feser's injunction not to feed the trolls, and this is a particularly imbecilic and tedious one.

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    2. What an entirely worthless comment. As if it follows that punitive justice is to be abrogated if there is no free will.

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    3. I can't help but imagine a rather rotund, greasy, and lonely nerd living in his mother's basement experiencing cathartic satisfaction after leaving stupid comments on Catholic blogs. I would suggest getting out more, but I'm not sure I'd want to witness this poor creature hissing at the fresh air and the bright sun.

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    4. I find this comment very amusing.

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  14. A long time ago on an exam I once critiqued Thomas's natural law theory by claiming that it had the absurd implication of resulting in the wearing of clothing being morally problematic. I received full marks on that question....

    [Disclaimer: This is supposed to be a funny story. I no longer believe that such an objection holds any force whatsoever.]

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    1. Tells us more about academia than we probably want to know.:)

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    2. I suppose we've all heard people say that smoking pot is natural because Cannibus is natural organic plant.

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  15. I've always found the alcohol thing pretty vague. There's so much overlap. For example, the theological imperative seems to be: get buzzed, don't get smashed.

    But what does that mean. Someone who is able to handle alcohol can easily drink enough to give them a moderately bad hangover the next day and yet not get totally smashed.

    Another problem is the loss of control thing. There is a pretty fine line between relaxation and lack of inhibition.

    Regarding drugs, I think a whole different approach needs to be taken. Some people, for example, can perfectly well smoke weed every now and then to relax. But it is pretty obvious that weed is way worse than alcohol. It is far more addictive than alcohol and far easier to live with the addiction. It brings out and accentuates peoples' worst traits. It is also quite clearly a gateway drug.

    Someone (Ed?) really needs to write a whole book on this. There is an awful lot of nuance. I think that natural law theory can probably be applied. But it will require some subtlety.

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    1. > "But it is pretty obvious that weed is way worse than alcohol. It is far more addictive than alcohol and far easier to live with the addiction. It brings out and accentuates peoples' worst traits. It is also quite clearly a gateway drug."

      None of this is obvious, or true as a generalization. Much of the thinking that went into this here book was done under conditions of THC-infusion (although most of the research-portion, e.g., reading books, was done under optimal conditions for such specific activity - i.e., sober), and it's by no means clear that the final product was *diminished* as a result: https://sites.google.com/site/theultimatephilosopher/Prologue-to-an-Aristotelian-End-of-History.pdf

      I have been personally acquainted with a long-time and daily-heavy-using "stoner" whose negative and abusive traits did come out . . . under the influence of booze. And I've known many for whom cannabis was in no way a gateway to hard drugs. I've also grown wary of the abuse (a perversion if you will) of *statistics* in "establishing" this or that (cor)relation between cannabis and bad things happening. The opioid crisis is doing much worse to this country than cannabis ever could. But, as with *just about anything* you might name, cannabis can be misused/abused/perverted. The strongest anti-cannabis evidence available suggests but doesn't prove that it is detrimental to brains still developing during adolescence -- which would be a manifestly terrible reason for banning it for adults (although the terribleness of such lines of so-called reasoning never stopped politicians from using them).

      UP/CRC

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    2. TheIllusionist - Ed is offering an analysis of when the use of drugs becomes factually evil and morally evil. You have to use your own best judgement when consuming these substances. If you know as a matter of fact that you behave in such and such a way after consuming such and such a quantity of alcohol, then it is your responsibility to judge accordingly how much you'll consume. I am going to assume this isn't true, but to me, it almost sounds like you want Ed to define an absolute quantity for you. It also sounds to me like you've answered your own question, i.e., if you know that consuming a certain amount will produce awful hangovers the next day even though you may not feel drunk, then you have you answer. In other words, don't drink so much that you'll be hungover.

      Wrt to cannabis, I'm sure many people inhale precisely because they want to impair their rational faculties for no good reason, but I don't necessarily see the essential difference between it and alcohol. It seems to me that consuming a small amount can be relaxing and that it takes a certain amount to become stoned. I may be wrong as I do not smoke cannabis and do not know whether dosage has any bearing on the impairment of reason.

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    3. @UltimatePhilosopher

      "Much of the thinking that went into this here book was done under conditions of THC-infusion and it's by no means clear that the final product was *diminished* as a result."

      It's pretty clear that the dude who wrote this was totally baked, actually. Would it have been better if it had been written sober? My hypothesis, given the content of the book, would be that the essential 'bakedness' has become integrated into the person's personality. Like a hammer-blow to the head, there's no walking that back, unfortunately.

      As for your distrust of the statistics. Well, need I say more. Are you high right now, perchance?

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    4. @Anonymous

      At a certain point you have to quantify. Perhaps not the actual volume of alcohol or even blood-to-alcohol, but at the very least some real quantification of the level of impairment.

      If we insist on subjective evaluation you would need a clear rule. For example, if you have a hangover the next day have you overimbibed (this may be impacted by the time you stopped drinking, so there's complications there)? Or if your memory has been seriously impaired is this too much? Or is the criteria that you did something that the sober you would either regret or not do?

      At some point you need to be concrete here. Just as you do with family planning and contraception and the like.

      Regarding weed. I am perfectly comfortable saying it is a terrible drug that should be banned. And yet I am also comfortable saying that some people can and do use it responsibly. These are nuanced issues. And if natural law theorists want to make headway then they will need to bring in some more objective and possibly even scientific standards to make a clear case.

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    5. TheIllusionist, you seems to be using words like "quantify", "objective", and "scientific" as ways to try to create the illusion (apropos...) of having said something with substance. The argument presented above is conceptual and appeals to things we know to be true. Quantities don't change the argument in the least.

      If you want to know how much a typical person can consume before their reasoning is impaired, then consult the medical literature. It's been measured. If you want to know how much YOU can consume personally, well, I would imagine that most people by a certain age have that sense. If not, go find out. Run the experiment! None of this is relevant to the substance of the natural law arguments. Drugs are already known to affect reasoning ability. Knowing how much it takes to affect it in which ways is a different question and not the essential concern of natural law theory.

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    6. Anon,

      That's a cop out. The Church can say to me: don't abort an unborn child. Fine. But unless they tell me when the foetus is a child I cannot use that information.

      The Church know that and they provide those guidelines in line with what we know at the time. So, in the Middle Ages they thought that ensoulment occurred at 40-90 days. Today they say it begins at conception.

      If they want to classify drunkeness as a mortal sin on par with abortion then they should provide similar guidelines. If Thomists want to help provide moral guidance then they need to firm that up.

      With drugs like pot its even more difficult. Because the general attitude is that you shouldn't do illegal drugs. Well that needs to be firmed up. Why? If I can have two or three beers, then why can't I have a few puffs on a joint.

      Again, I happened to think that pot should be illegal in both state and moral law. But that needs to be trashed out.

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    7. You're being obtuse. Sorry, can't work with that. (Btw, mortal sin involves not only a grave matter, but deliberate consent and full sufficient knowledge.)

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    8. I get the sense that you can't work with much in the way of particulars. Pity.

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  16. The effect of cannabis varies to an extent with the variety too (to draw an analogy with alcohol there's a difference between wine and vodka).

    The prohibitions vis alcohol and cannabis are to an extent culturally relative but in all honesty I think the former has more in its favor. Not only must one consider the effects on intoxication on the individual involved but also the effects of the intoxicated on others. The stoned are less likely to be engage in violent or reckless behavior towards others.

    I do with think re the perversion of reason that one must be remember that we can observe our own consciuess processes. Many hallucinogenic experiences have a different phenomenological feel to externally motivated experiences (one reason why I've never paid much mind to those who seek to explain all miraculous visions as the result of ergot ingestion or similar)

    In the future it might be possible to make an 'hallucinogenic film', a cocktail of gradually adsorbed hallucinogens that allow one to experience a series of semi-visual scenes (maybe in a particularly patterned surface) akin to watching them on an external device. It's unclear what the natural law perspective on this would be.

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  17. I'd add that drugs like alcohol, because they can affect mood, may in fact improve the actual exercise of reason by, for example, depressing anxiety. Caffeine can only improve cognitive faculties through other means and given different conditions.

    As they say, you can't philosophize without wine. In vino veritas!

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  18. Gluttony, lust, avarice ...

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  19. If we would just drop this "one humanity" nonsense once and for all, then I think that all of Trollkind would realize their fondest ambition: that of being freed from any "moral" law which premises off of man the rational animal.

    The practical trouble for them comes in explaining why a strong and healthy person should not throw the pot smoking dweeb to the ground and stamp on its neck, if the dweeb begins littering the landscape with his virtue-less and annoying presence ... certainly, if if any consequences of doing so are minimal. And why should they not be? Why should law and protections be categorical?

    "Empathy" the troll wails? Pffft. Not an argument; not anything - save a mere biological manifestation found in some beings - without also a binding natural law framework enabling subsequent moral deductions.

    There's always a hidden positive assumption which the nihilist troll embraces in order to leverage his "not this, but that instead" "argument".

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    1. Yes, Muslims are all nihilists. http://theconversation.com/could-iran-be-the-next-country-to-legalise-cannabis-and-opium-49183

      Whatever floats your boat.

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    2. I have no idea what all self-affirming Muslims are other than nominally "Muslim".

      Stoner trolls, covertly leveraging categorical moral membership premisses, which they through yet broader implications deny, are another matter.

      No good reason on their own explicit assumptions, not to 'include them out', as the saying goes.

      Utilitarian and emotional "arguments" don't count.

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    3. DNW, I don't know if you're high, but your post would sit comfortably in an anthology of high school stoner literature.

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  20. On a related note, when it comes to those who *do* use one substance or another in a problematic manner, here’s something important by addiction expert Dr. Stanton Peele:

    “Bill Miller and Bill White reviewed the efficacy of confrontational counseling: aside from finding no net benefits, they found several studies where the intervention produced worse results than occurred for the untreated group, as well as many documented harmful effects for individual subjects. "Four decades of research have failed to yield a single clinical trial showing efficacy of confrontational counseling, whereas a number have documented harmful effects, particularly for more vulnerable populations." Overall, the research indicates, confrontational approaches to substance abuse lead to higher drop-out rates, quicker and more severe relapse, and -- when used with DWI's -- higher recidivism.”

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  21. On a related note, when it comes to those who *do* use one substance or another in a problematic manner, here’s something important by addiction expert Dr. Stanton Peele:

    “Bill Miller and Bill White reviewed the efficacy of confrontational counseling: aside from finding no net benefits, they found several studies where the intervention produced worse results than occurred for the untreated group, as well as many documented harmful effects for individual subjects. "Four decades of research have failed to yield a single clinical trial showing efficacy of confrontational counseling, whereas a number have documented harmful effects, particularly for more vulnerable populations." Overall, the research indicates, confrontational approaches to substance abuse lead to higher drop-out rates, quicker and more severe relapse, and -- when used with DWI's -- higher recidivism.”

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    1. How is this relevant?

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  22. MARILIZE LEGAJUANA

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  23. Are video games bad/immoral?

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  24. How about this pro-drug argument: your rational faculties are impeded by a variety of "hang-ups" that the experience of tripping on LSD could help you to get past. So, although your reason is definitely not in the driver's seat during an acid trip, you will be able to use it better afterwards. Taking acid, then, is OK for the same reason that Thomas Aquinas says that it's OK to go to sleep. I'm skeptical of the idea that that's what happens when people drop acid, but one hears similar arguments and it does seem to avoid the perverted-faculty objection to drug use.

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    1. The act itself would still be immoral. Doing X (wrong thing) so that some Y (good thing) can happen doesn't make X ok. That's just standard utilitarian argument, ends justify any means.
      Sleeping is natural to man, whereas the experience of taking in some chemical compound to have an acid trip is not natural in the same way.

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    2. It's not the "naturalness" that's problematic. Ed mentions anesthesia. The problem is not suspension of reason, but frustrating the rational faculties. So if LSD frustrates those faculties in some way, then that would be problematic.

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    3. To make a better analogy with anesthesia: consider one was given LSD or MDMA as part of a therapeutic season, say to put one into a trance in order to make to make one more susceptible to hypnosis or to increase one's bodily awareness. This would be licit on natural law grounds, but it's not a case of taking them purely for pleasure.

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  25. It seems to me that the argument does still leave open the possibility of marijuana being OK if it only leads to "mild exhilaration" and "cheerfulness", which it seems plausible enough it could be used for. Clearly experience has shown that it's very easy and common for alcohol to be used in the wrong way. Not sure history has shown it is any more common for marijuana to be wrongly.

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  26. So if someone stays up so late that his reason is affected by his tiredness, is he acting unethically by perverting reason? (This is not an objection; just a question).

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    1. Not necessarily. If you are purposefully trying to impair your reason, then yes, but if you don't aim to do so but it happens as a result of aiming to do something else, then not really. Intention is the deciding factor because to pervert something is an intentional act.

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  27. When you pervert something, you are acting intentionally. But you aren't perverting something intentionally, if that means perversion need be part of what one intends. Presumably the liar does not intend to pervert his faculty of speech and the contraception user does not intend to pervert his reproductive faculty.

    What one intends is to Φ, where Φ in fact is contrary to the end of a faculty.

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  28. Dr. Feser,

    The answer to my question may have been put forward in the past through a comment or a blog post, but I cannot find it. Therefore, I can hopefully receive a response here.

    I am a senior in high school; I found your book on the 5 Proofs fascinating. I have never had an interest in Philosophy, but now I have purchased a part of the Summa and study it daily. I want to familiarize myself with the deeper concepts of Philosophy from a layman's approach. (I am very interested as to how to study Philosophy effectively, arguments for God's existence, and argumentation/logic. I will be studying Finance in college while minoring in Philosophy (after that, law). But, I want to use philosophy to learn how to think critically, and understand Theology in more professional way. I would like to go ahead and prepare myself before college. Which books and/or courses do you recommend? What is my best course of action in the description I provided to kickstart my goal to grasp Scholastic Metaphysics and argumentation?

    Thanks

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    1. I'm a law student and likewise have an interest in philosophy. I would recommend going through at least a few volumes of Frederick Copleston's history of philosophy and reading the basic texts from Plato and Aristotle. There's also a lot of great lectures on YouTube, from Feser, Davies, MacIntyre and the Thomistic Institute on SoundCloud hosts a number of excellent lectures. Don't expect to get a hand at this very fast,for us with no professional background it's important to get a firm grip of the terminology, but also familiarise oneself with the main objections to thomism, so reading Descartes, Hume,Kant and Spinoza would be recommended down the line.

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    2. Thank you, Ivan. That is very good advice.

      I am also looking at going to law school. Which volumes do you find most important to read in Fr. Copleston's "History of Philosophy?" Of what I know about his nine volume series, you don't have to read them in straight order.

      If you'd like to, you can DM me on Twitter @gdyess10 and we can continue the conversation there.

      Thank you again, Garrett.

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    3. I don't use Twitter, but reading them before you start reading a period is how I did it, so before Plato and Aristotle the first, before Augustine and Aquinas the second and so on.

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    4. Ivan, another step would be to locate some individual, possibly a professor or a priest, who is a Thomist or at least a classically orthodox Christian who believes in reality and its knowability. Someone you can take questions to every now and then. Someone who can ground you and let you know when you are going off the rails, because Aristotelian and Thomistic ideas are not easy in today's academic environment. Ideally, you should aim at going to a college filled with people like that, such as Thomas Aquinas College or Wyoming Catholic, though there are some other goods ones; the point is that not every college is going to help you on this, and most will actively attack your efforts to believe in reality and in truth.

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    5. @gdyess10: glad to see someone interested in classical philosophy. I pass along the advice given me by David Furley long ago, to include at some point a grounding in modern logic.

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    6. The US is a lot better at providing the possibility to even meet a priest who is interested in Aquinas and having an academic setting for the study of his ideas, unlike the small European country I'm from.
      The closest thing to this for me, outside a circle of friends would be fr. Thomas White from the Thomistic Institute and he has been helpful, although I wish I heard of TI and fr. White before.

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  29. Dear Professor Feser, you contrast two cases that strike me as being consistent, and even (at least often) complementary. The first is "when reason is subverted for the sake of something inferior to reason, as when someone deliberately drinks to the point of suspending reason merely for the sake of the more intense sensory pleasure this would bring…It essentially involves a rational animal deliberately trying to make of himself, if only partially and temporarily, a non-rational animal." The second is when "Reason temporarily suspends itself precisely for the sake of preserving itself [as in the case of sleep, where "the whole point…is precisely to preserve the health of the whole rational animal."] Why can't someone do the first thing-i.e., try to be, temporarily, a non-rational animal--in order to do the second thing-i.e., preserve his health as a rational animal? I would have thought that was the purpose of at least many weekend benders. Life is hard, and we are imperfect beings, which is why (as Aristotle says in the Ethics) "we need relaxation because we cannot work continuously". Suppose that, as a matter of psychological fact, relaxation (of the sort conducive to being (the rest of the time) productive and rational people) is--at least for some people--best attained through the oblivion of drunkenness? I'm not sure that this is a psychological fact, but it strikes me as an empirical question, rather than as something that can be ruled out a priori (as your distinction between the two cases suggests).

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  30. Another question on here:

    How do I explain to my friend that the earth is the first cause in the hierarchal series example? When I say that all of the power of the cup, desk, and foundation are derived from the earth...he objects by saying the earth isn't holding itself up or what holds up the earth. I know that Dr. Feser would not have used this example without being able to answer the question being presented by my friend, thus I am looking for it.

    Thanks

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    1. For what it's worth, here's my latest post on the subject:

      http://theskepticalzone.com/wp/flawed-logic-and-bad-mereology-why-fesers-first-two-proofs-fail/

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    2. Torley, for all I know some or all of your criticisms might be warranted, but do you really think you do anything for your credibility by posting them on something called 'the skeptical zone'?

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    3. Torley, your criticism of the coffee cup example doesn't work. You can take it to be an infinite series of material causes, but the issue remains that for water to make up the coffee, it first needs to exist. For water to exist, it needs to be composed of existing molecules of hydrogen and oxygen. We need not understand the series in terms of traditional efficient causes; the main issue is that there is an ontological priority of existence to whatever Y constitutes X, and then to whatever Z constitutes Y. The series cannot proceed to infinity.

      By the way, accidentally ordered series of causes also cannot regress to infinity, for precisely the same reasons.

      I haven't read the rest of your post so I can't comment.

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    4. Skimmed through the critique of the neoplatonic proof a bit. You talk of extrinsic properties; regardless of whether or not such extrinsic properties would qualify as parts in the ontological sense, isn't it still the case that the proof establishes that there must be a noncomposite being inasmuch as its existence and essence are completely simple, and not analyzable in terms of being a whole composed of parts? Because A is composed of B and C and B and C themselves are composed of (D, E) (F, G) and so on, there must be an absolutely simple being whose existence is not dependent on parts of any kind (including extrinsic, or we'd have a vicious circle) to keep composite beings unified in such a manner.

      What follows is a completely simple being. Does it have extrinsic properties which follow from its nature? Perhaps. I'm not gonna go into that because it's not necessary. The point is that it is still an essentially simple being whose existence is independent of any parts being combined together. And this we call God. Feser's arguments for God's nature do not all depend on act/potency or the first proof, contrary to what you said. This absolutely simple being responsible for the existence of composite beings cannot be material: (1) material beings are always composite beings; from all material beings we find in experience, to even beigs like quarks which, as you mention, can't be isolated and must be conjoined together to exist. So it is very implausible that any material being can be simple. (2) given a A-T hylemorphist metaphysic, which Feser defends, every material being will always be composed of matter and form, so no material being can be simple. (3) essence/existence, etc etc.

      So the simple being arrived at in the Neoplatonic Proof cannot be material. And from that, if I recall, Feser also proceeds to argue that it must be a mind (because being that it is immaterial, plausibly it can only either be an abstract object, or a mental content, or a mind, but the only causally effective candidate that would make sense for the argument would be a mind), so we reach the existence of a perfectly simple, immaterial mind who is responsible for keeping all composite beings in existence. Hardly a bad candidate for "God", if you ask me.

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    5. Miguel,

      Would you mind explaining the answer to my original question to me, please?

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    6. Well AFAIK the Earth is where it is because of gravity; it is kept in elliptical orbit because of gravity and the sun. So the Earth is not the absolutely first cause in the series. Also keep in mind that these examples are meant to be merely illustrative; after all whatever being that is not pure act will need to be actualized in order to exist; and ultimately we are asking why there are any contigent beings at all, or why there are dependent beings. It would be impossible for the existence of dependent beings (such as the coffee) to be explained by an infinity of other dependent beings (whether by act/potency, parts/whole, essence/existence, or just contingency). The existence of dependent beings is only possible if there is a being that is completely independent, who necessarily exists by its own nature, not having to be actualized, caused, or having parts united into a whole.

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    7. Hi Miguel,

      You argue that an infinite series of material causes cannot proceed to infinity. I'm not sure that Aristotle would agree with you on that point: he regarded matter as infinitely divisible, even though he didn't believe that any piece of matter was actually divided into an infinite number of components. Aristotle would also disagree with your view that an accidentally ordered series of causes also cannot regress to infinity. I'm not saying he's right; I'm just pointing out that an Aristotelian proof of God's existence cannot appeal to metaphysical premises which go against Aristotle's own thinking.

      You write that material beings are always composite beings. I beg to differ: as far as we currently know, electrons and quarks are simple. You raise a valid point with regard to essence and existence, but that's a distinction which Ed only attempts to establish in his fourth proof of God's existence, which I haven't addressed yet in my series of posts over at The Skeptical Zone.

      I agree with your statement that the existence of dependent beings is only possible if there is a being that is completely independent. However, it's another matter to say that such a being must necessarily exist by its own nature. That's a stronger claim, which I'll address in a forthcoming post on the Rationalist Proof of God's existence. Stay tuned.

      OA Police,

      The Skeptical Zone was kind enough to invite me to be a contributor after I was asked to leave Uncommon Descent. I am grateful to them for that.

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    8. Torley,

      I gave arguments for why even quarks and electrons are composite beings. You may say that their essence/existence pertains to the thomistic proof; fine, but that's not the only way in which they are composite. Even if we take quarks and electrons to not be further divisible into physical parts, they are still divisible into different properties, which I believe Feser argues for in the book. Moreover, as I said, for an Aristotelian philosopher (and so this is directly relevant to classical arguments), material beings are always composites of matter and form. Even if quarks are not further divisible into physical parts, they are still what they are -- quarks -- because they are a composite of matter and form, prime matter structured by the forms of quarks. So no material being can be truly simple in the sense required by the Neoplatonic Proof.

      And this is enough to give us an argument for God: immaterial causal agent responsible for the existence of composite things - not an abstract object, not a mental object, but a mind.

      Your assertion that Feser's arguments for provi the divine nature/agential character of the first cause are wholly dependent on the aristotelian proof is mistaken. Feser defends different arguments in the book -- such as this one from immateriality which can be concluded from differentproofs such as the neoplatonic one, the thomistic one, etc.

      Also, if a being is completely independent, then it must follow that its nature is sufficient for its existence. If it had to have its existence added to it, or conditioned by something else (such as is the case with numbers and eternal truths) then it is *not* completely independent and unconditioned. So I don't see the issue here.

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    9. Also, Vincent, you mention that Aristotle thought matter was infinitely divisible even though he believed no matter was actually divided into an infinite number of components. True, but the first pertains merely to a potential infinite, not an actual one, which I'm sure you realize. But if it's just a potential infinite then we're not talking about real parts; merely how we could "imagine" indefinitely cutting a block of wood in half, even though there are material particles that can't be actually divided into further physical parts/substances. Doesn't change what I said.

      Finally, I don't think we can't deviate from Aristotle in any way when presenting an aristotelian-inspired argument for God's existence. Feser is not doing historical exegesis or scholarship, he is simply defending arguments very similar (or inspired by) those of Aristotle et al., even though he can deviate from the historical versions in certain aspects (like William Lane Craig's "Leibnizian cosmological argument", for instance). So we could make an "Aristotelian argument" based on act and potency and still argue that accidental series cannot regress to infinity for similar reasons why hierachical ones can't; we may even reject any infinite chains by saying an actual infinite is impossible (which Feser doesn't do, but is an open possibility). The point is I think we can still be fair to call an argument "Aristotelian" or "Leibnizian" even if they deviate from their historical namesakes in certain details.

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    10. Hi Miguel,

      Thank you for your reply. I'd like to address your key points. Re exegesis of Aristotle: I think you make a valid point.

      You write that Feser "defends different arguments in the book - such as this one from immateriality which can be concluded from different proofs." As far as immateriality goes, that's correct. But in order to show that the immaterial Cause must be God, Feser needs to show that it is perfect, fully good, omnipotent and omniscient - and to establish these attributes, he relies almost entirely on the Aristotelian proof, appealing to it in each of his five arguments. Thus in premises 35, 26, 33 and 24 of the second, third, fourth and fifth proofs, he argues that since the Being in question is purely actual, it must have these attributes. See here.

      You also argue that "if a being is completely independent, then it must follow that its nature is sufficient for its existence." That's an argument based on Feser's Thomistic proof, which I'll discuss in my next post.

      You contend that "even if quarks are not further divisible into physical parts, they are still what they are -- quarks -- because they are a composite of matter and form, prime matter structured by the forms of quarks" so "no material being can be truly simple in the sense required by the Neoplatonic Proof." However, Feser makes it quite clear that his first two proofs do not assume the truth of hylemorphism. In a footnote on pp. 28-29, when discussing the Aristotelian proof, Feser writes: "But Aristotelian hylemorphism is controversial, and I refrained from putting things in terms of it, because doing so is not necessary to the argument." And in his presentation of the Neoplatonic argument, Feser discusses hylemorphism on p. 72, and then writes on p. 73: "Now there is a lot more to this analysis of physical objects, but whether one accepts it is irrelevant to the present argument."

      Re your claim that an immaterial causal agent responsible for the existence of composite things is "not an abstract object, not a mental object, but a mind," I would answer that your argument for immateriality assumes the truth of hylemorphism, and that we don't really know that immaterial objects which aren't abstract objects or mental contents must be minds. Cheers.

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  31. I don't drink or do drugs. Mostly, I don't understand the need. But is it immoral? I don't think so. A reasoned argument will never make it immoral, especially not the "perverted faculty argument." I have many reasons for this, but I'll give only one and a half.

    If my calculator isn't really adding because it could be quadding, then any process in the physical world isn't really doing any function in particular. That's the ultimate effect of Ross's Indeterminacy argument. There are facts, but facts underdetermine function. Without determinate function in nature, there can be no objective meaning in 'perversion'. Perversion itself becomes a subjective interpretation of physical processes. A compelling natural law has to be more.

    Let's assume for sake of argument that reason is not (merely) a physical process. But surely even the divine spark of immaterial reason can't be its own end. There has to be more to ends.

    It's tempting to talk about "lower appetites" versus reason. But there are no Appetite Facts: This portion satisfies 75% of the Daily Recommendation.

    Anyway, who wants to live as a robot?

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    1. Don Jindra,

      There are facts, but facts underdetermine function. Without determinate function in nature, there can be no objective meaning in 'perversion'.

      If theism is true then the whole of nature (or “physical universe”) has a function namely to realize the purpose of its creator. From this it easily follows that anything that works against (or perverts) that function is a sin. Thus in principle the idea behind natural law ethics is sound.

      But here are two main problems that renders the theory useless for practical ethics:

      1. The more distant from the whole of nature the state of affairs is the less applicable natural law ethics becomes. For example at the level of the natural function of an individual’s reproductive organs in some particular stage of his life it the idea becomes a parody. Why? Because the natural functions of the particulars form a complex web, and thus each particular does not have a unique function. One can arbitrarily cut that web in small pieces to assign some unique function to some particular, but then one will be producing arbitrary ethical results.

      2. We don’t even know God’s purpose for creation (and thus for the whole of nature) since we have not yet a warranted theodicy. But if don’t know the function of the whole of nature we can’t possibly argue on premises about the natural function of particulars. For all we know the ethically relevant natural end of our reproductive organs is the emotional bonding of a couple.

      I conclude that natural law ethics is a game of smoke and mirrors, a conjurer’s way to produce anything one likes.

      And as a Christian I don’t really get the point. Why do we need an ethical theory? Aren’t Christ’s words in the gospels clear enough? And in any case aren’t we made in the image of God and thus we knowledge of good and evil – through our sense of the divine? It’s like saying “we need theory for looking around”? Well, no we don’t. We need a theory to make sense of what we see when we look around. And the fact that our sense awareness of the good is cloudy and uncertain does not change the principle.

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    2. Dianelos Georgoudis,

      If theism is true, it does not follow that "the whole of nature has a function namely to realize the purpose of its creator." But let's assume for sake of argument that both are true. Then we still have this problem, which you have identified: Who among us is capable of knowing the purpose of the creator? Where do we look for clues?

      Even though I am not a theist, my words are basically aimed at those questions.

      You say "natural law ethics is a game of smoke and mirrors." I think some sort of natural law ethics is necessary. But the one pushed here fails at the most fundamental level. The foundation was destroyed when proponents removed determinant function from nature. Without determinant function, the whole of the philosophy fails. No part of it can be used to defend an alternate source for determinant functions. Without those determinant functions (purposes), their ethics becomes yet another subjective POV.

      Divine revelation doesn't work for me any better than a 'logical' argument for good and evil. Nevertheless, it seems we kind of agree. It's pretty obvious that in real world, day to day living, like you suggest, we usually just 'know' when something is wrong. We can make attempts to put that into words -- like in the gospels or natural law theory or The Declaration of Independence. But we as humans know it when we experience it without reading it in a book. Experience can make us moral creatures. Words do little.


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  32. I agree with Don Jindra.
    Every culture without exception has always had one or several means for intoxicating or altering the state of the mind/consciousness of its members.

    All human beings have an intrinsic urge/impulse to expand their mind/consciousness beyond their normal every day socially patterning mind/consciousness. And in one way or another they will find/use some means for doing so via the use of various drugs or intoxicants.

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  33. "I agree with Don Jindra."

    That's where you went wrong.....

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  34. What if I take cocaine to boost my intellectual focus, or LSD to inspect the weird revelatory claims of my hippie friends for from my own first person perspective?

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  35. On intoxication, experts actually put alcohol the highest on the scale when comparing 6 major drugs (alcohol, nicotine, heroin, cocaine, caffeine and marijuana): http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Addictive_Properties

    It does seem that booze has a special place in regards to affecting the rational faculty, but in precisely the opposite way from what you're implying.

    It also scores the highest in withdrawal.

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  36. I didn’t find the explanation about earplugs convincing. But here’s another even simpler case:

    The natural end of the penis when one is making love is to procreate. Because they don’t want to procreate some people use a condom when they are making love thus perverting the natural end of their penis. This is a sin.

    The natural end of the eyes when one is awake is to see. Because they don’t want to see something some people close their eyes when they are awake thus perverting the natural end of their eyes. This is a sin?

    It seems to me quite clear that the natural law ethics theory doesn’t always work. No ethical theory appears to have universal application, a fact that has interesting theological implications.

    But what I find especially bothersome is the hypocritical use of the theory. Smoking would seem to be a signature case for the theory, but since people don’t wish to turn smoking into a sin they search for ways to apply the theory as to avoid producing the undesired result.

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    1. I'm not sure that the smoking example works. As EF makes clear, the point is not that using a faculty in a manner other than it's natural end is immoral; it has to used in a manner *contrary* to that end. If the natural purpose of the penis is to help to cause pregnancy then to use the penis in a manner specifically intended to avoid pregnancy fits the template. But the natural function of the lungs is to get oxygen to the blood cells. The purpose of smoking is not contrary to that end, although the long-term effects of smoking are. But there is a distinction between foreseeable and intended effects, as in the doctrine of double effect (as long as one is not a means to the other). So I don't think smoking is a signature case.

      To close the eyes is not a way of using the eyes; it's a way of not using the eyes. It's a case of refraining from seeing, which is not a perversion of the faculty of seeing.

      But I think the diet soda case I described below your comment does fit the template, and so would have to be considered sinful in the perverted faculty sense.

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  37. I think the consumption of diet soda provides a good illustration of the PFA. Diet soda tastes sweet but has no caloric content. Our tongues have receptor for identifying sugary foods, and we are constituted to be attracted to the consumption of such foods. They are, in behaviorist jargon, reinforcing. The reason for this is that naturally sweet foods are also good sources of energy/calories. When we consume a beverage for the purpose of experiencing the enjoyment of the sweet stimulus without its natural concomitant, energy, we are using the faculty of taste in a manner contrary to its purpose, which is to motivate us to consume energy-rich food and drink. This would count as a perversion of that faculty.

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