Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I was amused (sort of) by Michael Perry's discussion of my sexual orientation and its fulfillment.  I don't recall discussing that subject with Michael or publishing anything about it.  Perhaps he has been in touch with my therapist (if I have one) or confessor.  Being a sophisticated person, Michael, who teaches at Emory University, surely isn't inferring that I am "heterosexual" from the fact that I am married (to a woman) or the fact that I hold conservative beliefs about sexual morality.  As Michael knows, there are plenty of people who are, or who regard themselves as, homosexual or bisexual who are married (to members of the opposite sex), and there are many who hold conservative views about sexual ethics. (Andrew Sullivan even has a theory about such people.)  As for Michael's argument--well, it's not actually an argument, it's sort of a suggestion of a possible line of argument, but nevermind--he seems to suppose that a sexual act or relationship can be judged to be morally upright if it fulfills (whatever that term means in this context) someone's sexual orientation (which is itself a concept that is yet to achieve a fixed meaning).  His move then is to characterize the position of those who disagree with him in the following manner:  "it's not immoral for, say, MOJ blogger Robby George, given his sexual (heterosexual) orientation, to live his life in a way that fulfills *his* sexual orientation, but it *is* immoral for, say, William Eskridge, given his sexual (homosexual) orientation, to live his life in a way that fulfills *his* sexual orientation."  So the reader is implicitly invited to draw the conclusion that the defender of traditional sexual morality (who is allegedly making this argument) is guilty of a particularly gross form of bias and self-preference.  Readers who are interested in the actual arguments I advance for my views on sexual morality (which have nothing to do with people "fulfilling" or not fulfilling their "sexual orientations") can have a look at Chapter Six (entitled "Sex and the Body") of my book with Patrick Lee, Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics (Cambridge U. Press, 2008).  (The argument there depends on some crucial points about personal identity defended in Chapter One, entitled "Human Beings are Animals," and Chapter Two, entitled "Human Beings are Persons.")  On the role of "biological" complementarity in our understanding of sexual ethics, people who are interested might have a look at our critique of the arguments advanced by two theologians who contend for the revision of Catholic teaching on homosexual conduct on the ground that what matters is "orientation" complementarity:  "What Male-Female Complementarity Makes Possible: Marriage as a Two-in-One-Flesh Union," Theological Studies, 69 (2008).  In our book, incidentally, Lee and I attempt to show that the core error in liberal sexual ethics is the same error that drives permissive views about abortion, euthanasia, and recreational drug-taking, namely, the idea that the body is an extrinsic instrument of the human person (considered as the conscious and desiring aspect of the self) rather than an integral part of the personal reality of the human being (considered as an integrated and dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit).  The error (as we see it) is the same whether its source is substance dualism of the (now) old-fashioned Cartesian sort; the "bundle theory of the self" (also known as the "no-subject" view) advanced by Parfit and others; the "mechanistic" view that rejects the possibility of composite substances; or the view (associated with process philosophy) that ultimate entities are events, rather than substances.  Back to Michael Perry's post, he says that it "bears emphasis" that most American Catholics violate what Michael likes to call "official" Catholic teaching on contraception.  That is, no doubt, true.  It has the same relevance to the question of the truth and authority of the teaching that the fact that most American Catholics violate the Church's teaching on lying has. (Evangelicals seem to be in the same boat on this one, by the way.  It seems that utilitarianism has seeped so deeply into the public's understanding of ethics that even Catholics and Evangelicals--who are supposed to be believers in moral absolutes--tend to think that lying is morally acceptable where it serves the "greater good" or is the "lesser evil.")


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