Procreation Does Not Mean Reproduction

Monday, 08-14-2017


The two natural purposes of the sexual powers are the procreation of children and the union of the procreative partners.

People tend to get the first purpose wrong.  They call it reproduction.

No.  Reproduction merely means turning out new humans by one means or another.  If the first purpose of the sexual powers were reproduction, there would be no second purpose, because it wouldn’t matter whether the partners were united.  It wouldn’t even matter if there were any partners:  We could dispense with parents altogether, doing as they do in Huxley’s Brave New World.

Procreation is the loving act by which posterity is generated.  It means conceiving children in the embrace of their father and mother; it means not only having the children together but nurturing them together, so that they can become virtuous adults; and it means forming families, thereby forging new links between dimmest antiquity and remotest futurity.

Any guppy can reproduce.  We have the privilege of procreating.

Book:  On the Meaning of Sex


God or the Enemy?

Monday, 08-07-2017




I am deeply distressed about what I consider a leadership crisis in the Church.  My immediate problem, though, is that I constantly struggle to know whether my feelings of frustration and indignation stem from God, guiding me to keep the Faith, or from the Enemy, using my pride to sow doubt in my heart.


Maybe both!  Everything bad comes from the distortion of something good; there is no other way to get anything bad.  Theologically, we can express this fact by saying that everything God created was good.  Philosophically, we can express it by saying that goodness and being are coextensive, so there is no such thing as an evil “substance” or fundamental reality.  For example, disease is the disordering of what would otherwise be health, but it would be absurd to say that health is the disordering of what would otherwise be disease.

The same principle applies to your frustration.  There really is something wrong in some sections of the leadership of the Church, and we ought to feel dismay about it.  These are good responses, because they are in accord with how things really are, and we should hold onto them.  But the Enemy can use our disappointment to fan pride and sow doubt.  These are bad responses, and we should resist them.  Christ did not promise that the smoke of Satan could never through any fissure enter the temple of God.  What he promised was that the gates of hell would not prevail against her.  Although the present trouble has novel elements, she has won through greater storms in the past.  Yes, really.

What can you do?  Pray without ceasing.  Rejoice in Providence.  Life the faith and teach your children diligently.  Avoid scandal and schism, but practice supernatural hope and bear witness to what the Church really teaches.  If the trouble comes to you personally, trust God not less, but even more.


Maxim and Momentum

Monday, 07-31-2017


A certain little man of my acquaintance found ants in the house.  He began to squish them.  Squish, squish, squish.  You must understand that he is very small.

His grandmother said, “Don’t squish those ants.  You’ll make a mess.  I’ll take care of them.”

Somehow, grandmother’s words triggered the memory of one of mother’s wise maxims in the little man’s mind.  However, it took a few seconds for the momentum of his action to dissipate.  In the meantime, this is what we heard from his little mouth and feet.

“Don’t hurt God’s creatures!  They're precious!”  Squish.  “Don’t hurt God’s creatures!  They're precious!”  Squish.  “Don’t hurt God’s creatures!  They're precious!”  Squish.

I leave it to the reader to draw the moral of the tale.


Let Every Soul Be Subject – to What?

Tuesday, 07-25-2017



As I read Romans 13:1-7, God’s institution of human government is clear, but the apparent autonomy given to the authorities to judge what is right and what is wrong seems oddly detached from any kind of divine guidance.  So I am wondering if the Apostle Paul’s statements presuppose that the authorities will be limited by natural law.  If so, would it have been Cicero's natural law or Stoic natural law that he would have in mind -- or some form of Jewish natural law?


Was he assuming natural law?  In a word:  Yes!  The passage to which you allude is states “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”  The tradition does not take this statement to require unquestioning obedience, for with equal authority, on an occasion when the local authorities unjustly commanded the Apostles to stop preaching about the risen Christ, St. Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men.”  If God really is the source of human authority, then human magistrates have no authority to exceed what God has committed to them, and they are charged to act justly.  So we should read the statement “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” as meaning that every soul should be subject to them in matters that lie within their authority for the common good.

There is only one natural law, so I take your second question, about Cicero, the Stoics, and the Jews, to be whether St. Paul’s statement commits us to a particular theory of natural law.  He doesn’t say so, but it is clear from various other statements he makes that natural law is both truly natural, that is, based on the human creational design and knowable by the human mind, and truly law, that is, capable of laying genuine duties on our conscience.  That obviously places limits on what kind of natural law theory we could adopt.

The great rabbinical commentators did teach something that we would call natural law, although they did not use that term for it.  Its first great expression in rabbinical commentary is the tradition of the seven laws given to the sons of Noah.  Considering that “sons” means “descendents,” that means that it was given not just to the Jews, but to all human beings.  Its second great expression is the rabbinical project of explaining the “reasons of the law.”  For example, Rabbi Hanina states concerning the commandment to administer justice that “were it not for the fear of it, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.”  Plainly, then, God’s basic moral will for us is not arbitrary and incomprehensible, but something the human mind can recognize as right.

More about the relation between natural and revealed law


Reading Well

Monday, 07-10-2017



I am a college sophomore who is curious to find good books to read.  I have not had an introduction in philosophy, but I do wish to begin to study the subject in the future.  I have had thoughts on becoming a Dominican Friar one day (perhaps if I can get Masters or Ph.D. in Mathematics).  I wish to study philosophy, in particular, Metaphysics and Ethics, so that I may be a mature, humble, and wise Catholic (or at least be a Catholic more mature, humble, and wise than I am now).  Are there any good pieces of literature that you could recommend to me?  Thank you for your time.



I commend your intention!  Considering your hopes, my first suggestion is to get a good liberal arts education.  This doesn’t mean that you have to pursue a liberal arts major, such as philosophy, but whether or not you do, you need to read widely in the classics of Western civilization.  Be careful, because in our strange era, even many teachers who do assign the classics poison the well.  The best remedy is to read so well that you can tell when the water is fresh.

My second suggestion would have been not to neglect mathematics, which is a good discipline for the mind.  But I see that you are already interested in mathematics – excellent!  Your studies in logic will probably focus on the rules of inference.  These will help you to avoid formal fallacies, but you should also be familiar with the informal fallacies, which are sometimes called fallacies of distraction.  An example of an informal fallacy is argumentum ad misericordiam, or argument from pity:  “What he says must be right, because can’t you see that he’s suffering?”

Third, I am providing below a very short list of classics, just to get you started.  You’ll notice that on a great many points, the outlooks of the authors differ widely.  Calling a work “classic” doesn’t mean that it’s right about everything; it means is that it set a kind of standard that other works have to reach in order for their challenges to its ideas to be taken seriously.

Not counting the Bible, my short list includes only eight authors.  Even so, these works will keep you going for a long time; a wise man said that it is better to read a few books well than a lot of books poorly.  You’ll notice that I’ve included only ancient and medieval writers.  Of course you should read the moderns too, but first learn the classical tradition, then read their challengers – not the other way around!

There will be no great surprises here:

The Bible, both Old and New Testament

Homer, Iliad

Homer, Odyssey

Plato, Republic

Plato, Apology of Socrates

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

Vergil, Aeneid

St. Augustine, Confessions

St. Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

Dante Alighieri, Comedy

Not every one of these works should be read straight through in order, from the first page to the last.  For example, on your first pass through the Old Testament I would suggest focusing on Genesis and Exodus, then the key passages of the historical books, then just excerpts from the Wisdom books, the Psalms, and the Prophets.  You can skip the genealogies (although it’s true that they are there for a reason).  In Isaiah, focus on the Songs of the Servant of Yahweh.

Again, if you try to read the entire City of God straight through, you’ll bog down.  In my political philosophy seminars, I usually assign Book 2, Chapters 2 and 18-21; Book 5, Chapters 12-21; Book 12, Chapters 1-8; Book 14, Chapters 1-9 and 28; and Book 19, Chapters 1-7, 12-17, 21, and 24-28.

And on your first pass through the Summa Theologiae, begin with the opening questions on God; these are in the First Part.  Then go to the First Part of the Second Part (sorry, that’s what it’s called), and read the opening questions on happiness and ultimate purpose (I’m writing a book about them now).  Next, read just the most crucial questions on the nature of virtue – I would suggest the selections I included in another of my books, which you can find listed here.  Finally, read the questions on the nature of law -- eternal, divine, natural, and human.

Happy reading!  By the way, check out the link below too.

A Related Post


The New Approach to Reproductive Ethics: Making It Up

Monday, 07-03-2017



I thought you might be able to use the Atlantic article “Making Babies, No Sex Necessary” your blog or classroom.  Henry Greely, director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School, is making this easy for you as he gleefully steps into the natural law box without apparently being well prepared.

Greely argues that in the future, no one will have sex to make babies (except perhaps by accident, in the back seat of a car).  Couples won’t even have to donate eggs and sperm, because physicians will turn cells from their skin or other non-reproductive organs to make gametes to combine into embryos.  Then the embryos will be screened for whatever qualities we want.  Presumably the unwanted ones will be destroyed.


I wonder this gentleman even assumes that babies will be made by couples.  From his point of view, why not just clone ourselves?  One of the greatest things about having children is that we can’t play God and make them exactly like ourselves.  Dr. Greely wants to end all that.

Views such as his are hardly unexpected.  Ever since the development of artificial contraceptives people have been claiming that sex has nothing to do with making babies any more.  It follows that making babies has nothing to do with sex.

You’re right that he is unprepared to discuss natural law.  I wouldn’t quite say that he is making the argument easy for me, though.  The difficulty in arguing with fellows like this one is that you can’t; they are not interested in argument.

At the end of the article he is quoted as follows.  Speaking to imaginary opponents, he says, “If you, coming from a Catholic background, try to convince me, coming from a non-Catholic background ... that wouldn’t work for me …. I need a more intellectual argument than one 'based on my faith' or 'the tablets brought down from the mountain for me say this.' … There’s very little about our modern lives that’s natural or what a God from 3000 years ago would have expected or wanted, including all of modern medicine.”

Notice his implicit assumptions.  Concerning argument in general,

> The most likely source of argument in opposition is precisely the one we don’t have to listen to.

> “That wouldn’t work for me” is sufficient rebuttal to an argument.

Concerning faith,

> We already know that anyone who has faith is unreasonable; he believes because he believes because he believes.  Therefore, there is no need for non-Catholics to listen to the arguments of Catholic thinkers.  Even without listening we know that they will have nothing to say but “It’s based on my faith.”

> Everything anyone says about God is a human construct.  Except for Dr. Greely’s view that Catholics have it wrong about God.  That’s not a human construct.

> Truth falls out of date, like fashions in clothing.  Nothing that anyone thought a long time ago could possibly have any value.

Concerning natural law,

> We don’t need to know anything about natural law reasoning to criticize it.  It’s okay to make it up.

> Natural law means being primitive.  That’s why medicine is unnatural.  The natural law would tell you that if you’re sick, it’s natural to be sick, and you shouldn’t get well.

> If very little about our modern lives conforms to natural law, then there isn’t any natural law.  Presumably, if very little about the way I drive conforms to traffic law, then there isn’t any traffic law either.

What natural law theory really says


Hear No Evil

Monday, 06-26-2017


Everyone notices that the culture is drenched in sex.  What not many notice is that many of the people in the ocean are hypersensitive about reference to the water.

Although they are immersed in it, they can’t bear hearing it mentioned in certain ways.

I first noticed this in my classes.  We were talking one semester about natural teleology -- the fact that certain purposes and meanings are built into us.  Though I hadn’t mentioned sex, a student asked how natural teleology related to a particular sexual behavior.  Briefly, I explained that according to the classical tradition, every use of the sexual powers must respect both their procreative and unitive purposes.  But saying so was sexual content.  Someone complained.

On another occasion, in another class, we were talking about the First Amendment free speech jurisprudence.  Contrasting the Founders’ views with the views of some judges, I mentioned that by “speech,” the Founders did not mean every sort of “expression.”  For example, they wouldn’t have considered strip shows as speech, much less protected speech.  But saying so was sexual content.  Someone complained.

Then there was the day when students asked about the Obergefeld decision, which held that same-sex unions are marriages.  Briefly, I explained why thinkers in the classical natural law tradition would have disagreed.  But saying so was sexual content.  Someone complained.

Silly me, I used to think the complaints were coming from religious kids who thought sex should never be mentioned.  Though I wouldn’t say “never,” modesty I get.  Some things shouldn’t be mentioned without strong necessity, for example the need to think clearly about a massive cultural change.  As St. Paul wrote, “it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”

But the sorts of objections I’ve mentioned are not based on modesty.  Complaints spring from seven causes.

1.   Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though what anyone does might matter.

2.   Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though the issue concerns sex, not equality.

3.  Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though there might be reasons for thinking one thing about it rather than another.

4.  Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though the traditional views about it may have merit.

5.  Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though it may be connected with procreation.

6.  Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though certain attitudes and behaviors about it may promote marital instability.

7.  Not from mentioning sex, but from speaking as though certain attitudes and behaviors about it may encourage abortion.

We are as prudish as a colony of Puritans, but our prudery is sham.  It is not for the sake of purity that we hold our hands to our ears.

Is purity a virtue anyway?

New book on virtue ethics