— Post Lawrence, the advocates of natural law have been emerging from their ghetto to speak of the “unnaturalness” of gaydom. [See E. Volokh’s sound analysis.] In this vein, Robert Light has passed along to me a short dissertation on Scholastic metaphysics by his acquaintance Marc Balestrieri, who writes:
Everything of material creation in the world has a “final cause,” on the contrary, finality is the “prime cause,” or first of all causes. Potentiality and actuality being two elements of being necessarily composing every essence in existence, the finality of an object is the act towards which every potency necessarily tends towards during the duration of its existence. It is, by analogy, the “raison d’etre” of a faculty of every being which is human, of everything which exists. . . .
Therewith, it is without a doubt that the finality of the genesic faculty is the creation of offspring, just as the finality of the eye is to see, as the finality of the intestines is to digest, as the finality of the brain is to intellectualize, the finality of the mouth is to maciate and swallow wholesome food. If one of those faculties were to be willfully used contradicting its finality, or finis operis, than one would act “unnaturally,” or “irrationally,” per Aristotle and Aquinas. . .
Now, no doubt Marc gives us solid scholastic philosophy. But why think scholastic philosophy has to do with anything important?
Aristotle’s system is a thing of intellectual beauty, especially insofar as he was striving to provide an empirically adequate characterization of the world. The spirit of Aristotle lives on in contemporary naturalists, who, like Aristotle, actually care about the way the world works. Catholocized Aristotelians, however, long ago gave up on Aristotle’s project, and have made an elaborate a priorist dogma of Aristotle’s essentially empirical enterprise. Aristotle was the first systematic biologist, and perhaps the finest that ever lived. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s biology is in most important respects false, and we know vastly more about nature than the Philosopher could have dreamed. I would suggest to Marc that he begin taking the Aristotelian project seriously by apprising himself of this knowledge.
About kinds & essences… Organisms form natural kinds only on an extremely loose and discreditable conception of ‘natural kind’. Aristotle understandably did not understand that species are impermanent and contingent. He did not understand recombination, mutation, drift, or speciation. There is little to species membership other than shared lineage. There are no species essences.
At best, for each species there is a normal distribution of traits, such that certain members are more typical than others. But the nature of the distribution shifts over time, and variation may occur on any dimension without an organisms thereby becoming any less a member of its kind. At time t, statistically typical members of one and the same species might have one behavioral profile, and at time t+n have quite another. Perhaps the environment changed causing some old behaviors to became maladaptive, and so an atypical and tenuously adaptive behavioral profile from t came to dominate the population by t+n. At each point in time, the behavorial elements of the typical profile had likely been selected for, and thus it was the proper function of the underlying behavioral mechanisms to produce those behaviors. But there is no proper behavioral function for a species for all time.
Likewise the function of organs can change over time. The thumb, say, has a function: grasping. But the thumb is an evolutionary transformation of some non-thumb appendage of one of our ancestors, and that appendage had a different function.
Human organs have functions on this etiological/adaptive conception of function. But there is no reason to understand the function of human organs as straightforwardly normative. If organisms have an overall function, then it is to maximize inclusive fitness. But who cares? We don’t WANT inclusive fitness. We want happy, deeply meaningful lives among others who are also trying to have happy deeply meaningful lives. The fact that we want THIS, and not inclusive fitness, may or may not be an accident of our evolutionary history. I use my mouth for smoking cigarettes, chewing gum and kissing, not just for “maciating wholesome food.” But whatever.
Insofar as using our organs according to their biologically proper function contributes to happy, meaningful lives among others, then we should use them that way. Insofar as they don’t, we shouldn’t. I guess one COULD say that the function a trait adapted to perform among small bands on the savanna tens of thousands of years ago is precisely what we ought to use that trait for NOW… COME WHAT MAY! But you’d have to be caught in the grip of an utterly mystifying ideology to say it.
Of course, the scholastic doesn’t understand our traits and their function in Darwinian terms. But Darwin and his school is right. Which is why scholastic noodling about human nature is perfectly irrelevant.
We are talking about homosexuality here, right? Think of it this way. Or, anyway, this is how things seem to me to be. There are some human beings who find themselves sexually and emotionally attracted to members of the same sex. A happy, meaningful life among others seems unattainable to these people without same-sex relationships. Now, there is this old metaphysical system, and the reason it has not died out completely is that it was adopted as dogma by a major world religion. There is otherwise very little of intellectual credibility to be said in its favor. Our best, current, highly confirmed empirical theory of the natural world says merely that predominantly homosexual behavior is almost certainly atypical in a population, but nevertheless obviously natural, because observed in nature. It is also observed that a large number of people engaged in same-sex relationships have happy, meaningful lives, even despite widespread discrimination and persecution. Okay. Now somebody decides to explain to us that according to the elaborate ancient dogmatic system, there is something unnatural or irrational about same-sex relationships.
My reaction: “Oh. Interesting. And I wonder what the Hindus think.”