Recently in Sex, Marriage, and Sexuality Category

Some of the early reports about yesterday's report from the Vatican conference on family issues seem to me to betray a serious misunderstanding of Catholic teaching on these issues. In the NPR story I just linked, we see two views being put into contrast that I don't think any Catholic who understands the concepts involved would recognize as being in conflict. On the one hand, Catholics have long taught that homosexuality and same-sex sexual relationships are intrinsically disordered, and Catholics insist on the wrongness of any sexual relations outside marriage. On the other hand, this report speaks of Catholic communities "accepting and valuing their sexual orientation" and "positive aspects to a couple living together without being married". It all depends on the context and what is meant by these expressions, but I see no reason yet to take these in a way that contradicts anything in Catholic teaching.

The crucial element is the concept of intrinsic disordering. If something is intrinsically disordered, it means that the good in the relationship is put together wrongly in some way. It means either something is missing, or the parts are not working together the way they ought to. But the concept of intrinsic disordering requires there to be some good, since intrinsic disordering means something is less good, as opposed to some positive evil being introduced, which is impossible on an Augustinian conception of evil that serves as the basis of the notion of intrinsic disordering.

You can't have something intrinsically disordered that doesn't have some positive good. No positive good means no existence. Intrinsic disordering means a disordering of positive good. That means there is positive good. And that means this change in emphasis isn't a change in doctrine, if all it's saying is that there is some positive good in same-sex relationships and in unmarried couples living together (implying sexual relations).

In particular, you can think value all manner of things about a same-sex relationship: you can recognize the good in a couple's self-sacrifice for each other, the good in their parenting of any children they might have, the good in the degree to which they fulfill their desire for companionship, even some level of good in the sexual pleasure they provide each other. You can do that even if you think the relationship itself is immoral and if you think they're seeking the wrong object to fulfill sexual desires and the wrong ways of fulfilling their companionship needs. You couldn't think they are good in every respect, but you have to think there is some good there, or else there would  be nothing. That follows from the very notion of intrinsic disordering.

Similarly, the Catholic church holds that there are good things in opposite-sex sexual relationships between unmarried people. Catholic doctrine declares such relationships immoral. There is a difference in that they're not disordered in terms of the object of sexual desire (or at least in terms of the sex of the object of sexual desire). But there's plenty of intrinsic disordering of a different sort in those relationships (e.g. the marital status of the two people, which is an issue to do with the object of one's desire, just not about the person's sex). Most importantly, the person and relationship are placed on a higher level than God, because they refuse to honor God's command to marry before having sex. That is an intrinsic disordering, since it demonstrates one's desires are not well-ordered, which is what virtue is on an Augustinian view. Any sin is an intrinsic disordering, since it involves a disordering within one's desires. That assumes some good in the desiring and in the fulfillment. Otherwise there would be no desiring or fulfillment.

Compare the intrinsic disordering of a shoe fetish. What's disordered about that is that shoes are not an appropriate object of sexual desire. Homosexuality, by contrast, involves a desire for a human being. Human beings are the appropriate objects of human sexual desire in general, even if there is some intrinsic disordering when it involves same-sex desires. That means there's something good about same-sex desire that isn't present for the shoe fetish. It's not clear to me that the Catholic statement is doing anything more than acknowledging things like that. That's compatible with thinking same-sex relationships are intrinsically disordered to the point of being immoral. I think people who don't have a view like the Catholic view will be inclined to think that anyone who thinks homosexuality is intrinsically disordered must think it the height of all evil, with nothing redeemable or good about it, but that's simply not what the view holds. Many who hold the Catholic view might not see this, but there's a difference between how proponents of a view understand it and what the official view is, at least when you're talking about a view held by those who believe their views come from some authoritative source. (The No True Scotsman fallacy is simply not an issue when you have an authoritative person, text, or organization that determines what the official view is. There is a genuine Catholic position, and those who don't hold that view do not hold the Catholic view.)

There may be a different emphasis here, but it's not at odds with thinking the relationship is intrinsically disordered anymore than the idea that it's good to support our troops is at odds with being opposed to a particular conflict they've been fighting in. So don't believe anyone claiming that this is a change in Catholic doctrine. It's not a conflict or departure from the concept of intrinsic disordering. It in fact brings to the fore something that follows from the notion of intrinsic disordering. Perhaps that's something that those who believe homosexuality is intrinsically disordered should be emphasizing more. But it's not a new position. It even follows from the idea of intrinsic disordering. Anyone claiming the two are at odds simply doesn't understand what it means to be intrinsically disordered, or they couldn't think that.

Ethics and Disgust

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Thabiti Anyabwile has come under a lot of criticism from many quarters for his recent post on the gag reflex and Christian opposition to same-sex sexual acts, increasingly called "homosex" of late. [I'm still getting used to that word, because it still feels like an adjective to me (one without its proper ending), but it's a useful word compared with writing out something like "engaging in same-sex sexual activity, so I will use it.]

He has just posted a followup responding to some of the criticisms as well.

As I see it, there are several issues going on here, and I don't think all the participants in the conversation are keeping them straight. There are a number of ways his argument is being misrepresented (and then made fun of in pretty vile ways as a result), but there are also some genuine philosophical difficulties with some of the things he's saying, and I'm not entirely sure I agree with some of the key points. Even so, I think some of the things for which he's being unfairly made fun of by a lot of the opposition seemto me to be largely correct and even relatively obvious, things I'm not sure many people will really want to rid themselves of in their ethical theorizing if they were to think their views through more carefully. So maybe they should refrain from making fun of them, if I'm right about that. I want to work my way to that gradually, however, with a bit of a review of some of the key philosophical moves that have been made about the connection between morality and emotion.

1. Ethics and Emotion

I'm not interested first in the application to homosex, although I will say a few things about that later on. I'm primarily interested in the general strategy of ethical reasoning that involves paying heed to emotions like disgust. A good friend of mine complained on Twitter about the arguments found in the original post, arguing that if we allow disgust to guide our ethical judgments it would mean racists' disgust for racial interaction could generate moral principles against interracial marriage (or more particularly against interracial sex). If disgust shows us anything at all about genuine moral principles, the argument goes, then we have to follow our disgust whatever it leads us to loathe. And people can loathe all sorts of things, in ways that don't at all track genuine moral principles. So we shouldn't rely on our disgust to show us anything about morality.

I think this argument is a mistake. The fact that disgust can be directed against things that are not wrong does not show us that disgust isn't ever a guide to morality. All it shows us is that disgust can be fallible. It can sometimes be directed against things that are not morally wrong. But the same is true of emotionless reason. Emotionless reason presumably led Immanuel Kant to say that lying is always wrong. However, it also has presumably led other philosophers to say that lying, while usually wrong, is sometimes the morally right thing to do. If emotionless reason can generate both principles, then obviously it's fallible. But that doesn't mean it never helps us end up with correct moral principles. It just means it's fallible. It sometimes gets things wrong. We can't trust it 100%. But only a radical skeptic (or someone who grants the radical skeptic far too much, as Rene Descartes did) would claim that a source of information is worthless just because it's not 100% reliable. So I don't think we can rule out a connection between emotion and morality so quickly.

As it happens, recent work in feminist ethics has drawn a lot of attention to attempts to separate emotion from ethical reasoning that have led to a bias against ways of moral reasoning that have tended to be more paradigmatic of women than of men. This bias has had the effect of marginalizing women's ethical reasoning, to the detriment of our overall ethical reasoning. Alison Jaggar has argued that much of the history of ethical theory, which happens to have been done mostly by men, has either treated emotion as something completely isolated from ethical reasoning (as Kant did; emotion cannot be trusted, and the only way to get ethical understanding is to reason in a way that doesn't involve emotion) or as the foundation of all our ethics but a foundation that has no basis in any ethical truth (as David Hume did; there is no ethical truth, because ethics is pure emotion and not reasoned).

Thankfully, Jaggar is wrong about the history of philosophy. Sometimes it's because she misinterprets particular philosophers, such as her reading of the Stoics as being opposed to all emotion, which she can be forgiven for, because, well, they do actually say that. But philosophers are often bad reporters of their own views, and it turns out it's not feelings that the Stoics think we should rid ourselves of. It's bad reasoning, which is how they define emotion. There are plenty of feelings, according to the Stoics, that are perfectly fine to have as long as they're compatible with reasoning well. Certainly the Stoics emphasize reason and say they oppose emotion, but what they oppose isn't what we normally call emotion. The Stoic view on emotion is perfectly compatible with taking what most of us call emotions to be very important for ethics. In fact, having the right feelings, ones compatible with reason, is even crucial for the Stoics. They just won't call those feelings emotions.

Jaggar also seems to me to underemphasize the ways that historical philosophers even put a good deal of effort into organizing their ethical theories around emotions. Plato considered it extremely important for the best possible life that your emotions be engaged in appreciating goodness itself on an emotional level. Aristotle explained some of the most important virtues as simply having the tendency to respond to your circumstances with the right level of emotional response. Augustine's entire account of virtue makes it emotional: virtue is having well-ordered love, whereby you love the best things the most and the less-good things less fully. I myself think all three of them were largely right in these things. Ethics is very much tied up with emotion, and attempts to separate ethics from emotion the way Hume and Kant did are, to my thinking, disastrous.

But several questions remain. It's one thing to say that ethics involves having the right emotions. It's another to say that our emotions are, even sometimes, a good guide to the right ethical principles. We certainly can't just read our ethics off whatever emotions we happen to have. There are plenty of times when my emotional response isn't proportional to an offense that's committed, and I either overreact or underestimate a wrong that's taken place. Or I might not be properly placed to experience the good in something and not be as able to rejoice as I should at some good. There are lots of cases where our emotional judgments are a little off, and there are enough cases, such as with the racist example above, where they are drastically off. Indeed, a Christian who believes in the doctrine of the fall should be the first to recognize that, and that was even crucial for Augustine's ethical theory. Our emotions are often not directed in ways that remotely match up with what's truly good.

2. Ethics, Disgust, and Moral Reasoning

But that doesn't mean there's no role for disgust to play in helping us to see certain ethical truths. Jaggar's feminist treatment of this subject is a good example. She argues that women, having been oppressed for the entirety of recorded history by being told that their emotions are wrong when those emotions contradict how they're being treated, are nevertheless right to pay heed to those emotions, because those emotions are genuine clues to the reality that our socially-constructed narrative is otherwise blinding us to. A member of an oppressed group might have absorbed the narrative that they, as unintelligent slaves, have no rights and need the help of those who are guiding society along to make their decisions for them, but their emotions tell them that the views they've officially adopted on the level of conscious reason are somehow wrong. This can be so for any oppressed or marginalized group, not just women, but she picks out women as a group because women have been told (and less so in outright words in recent years but still conditioned by society in this direction) that they are emotional rather than reasoning beings, that their emotions are less trustworthy than the reasoning that's been identified as paradigmatic of men. I don't agree with everything Jaggar says along these lines, but there's quite a lot of it that strikes me as right about the history of how women are viewed and about some of the elements of how we (men and women today) are still conditioned to view each other and ourselves.

So if Jaggar is right, then there are at least some contexts in which emotions will be even a better guide to truth than the more emotionless reasoning that can easily be simply the reflex of our socially-conditioned environment, our lip service to the biases of our day. Now emotions can do that, too, as evidenced by racist disgust at interracial sex, for example. But all Jaggar is claiming is that sometimes emotions can be a better guide to moral truth than whatever process underlies what we're conditioned to call emotionless reason. And that seems to me to be absolutely right.

Even more, I think there are cases where we can show that our emotion adds something to moral reasoning that you simply cannot get from the emotionless reasoning. A friend of mine who works in aesthetics once gave a case that seems to me to indicate this pretty nicely. Suppose you're eating a kidney and a little bit disgusted at it. This is not moral disgust at all. You just ended up in a situation where you're expected to eat something that you don't like the taste of, and you find it a bit disgusting. But after you've been eating it for a few minutes, you discover that it's a human kidney. Suddenly your level of disgust goes way up. That's not from the taste of it, which didn't change, or from any emotionless reason, because emotionless reason has no emotion and thus by itself wouldn't increase your disgust. Rather, your level of disgust increases because of some moral principle lying behind the disgust, one that upon rational examination would easily stand up. Eating humans is morally worse than eating a kidney from some other animal. It should disgust us, and it does. We should feel greater disgust at eating humans, if we're morally healthy. That doesn't mean that it follows that eating humans is always wrong. It's compatible with this disgust that eating humans who died independently of our actions in a case of survival is morally allowable. Yet it does seem that there's a moral principle lying behind the disgust, one that very few people would question, and it's hard to argue that the disgust isn't a sign of that moral truth. The disgust signifies that truth. Its continuation from generation to generation helps maintain our resistance to cannibalism, and we should be glad for that.

(I should note that this example is a lot like C.S. Lewis' example of finding out that you're eating a deer that was a talking deer in The Silver Chair. The difference, there, however, is that those eating the deer didn't have disgust at all until they found out it was a talking deer. Here there's already disgust at eating the kidney, but it takes on a whole new level of disgust when you learn that it's a human kidney.)

Laurie Shrage is a well-respected philosopher who writes a lot about feminist issues. She wrote a piece for the NYT this week that seems to me to undermine one of the key feminist contentions found in many discussions of abortion. One of the major feminist arguments for abortion is that it gives to women something that men have always had because of biology. Men have been able to have as much sex as they want while taking no responsibility for any children they thereby produce, because women have to face the consequences by bearing the children, and men can simply leave. If we let men avoid the consequence of fatherhood, we should let women have as much consensual sex as they want and not have to be mothers if that happens to result.

What Shrage points out is that this is simply not so. In the United States, any man who tries to do what men in this argument are assumed to do will find it very difficult to avoid legal responsibility for the children he sires. Men don't have any way to avoid being legally responsible for their children the way women do, since they can't force someone to have an abortion. Assume that a couple engage in sex where each is equally responsible for the fact that they had sex and for any steps they took not to conceive. That may not always be so, but assume it is. If they do conceive, she can have an abortion, with or without his consent. What can he do to avoid fatherly responsibility? Pretty much nothing. And if she impregnates herself by obtaining a sperm sample from him against his will and then lies and says they had sex, he is still going to assume legal responsibility if she insists on pursuing that.

None of this requires denying that there are asymmetries in relations between men and women. It simply points out that n this respect women actually have easily available ways to avoid legal responsibility than men do. When you factor in adoption, I think the same thing occurs. She can choose to give birth and seek adoption. He can't. And there might be those who argue that this is right. Because of how women have been and still are treated differentially in ways that harm women, women should have more rights in this area.

But if Shrage is right that this differential is something we should not want for our society, I don't think it follows that we should give men an out the way we give women an out, which is what I think she's assuming. It might simply be that we should be more cautious at how easily we allow people not to take responsibility for their actions. Maybe we should assume more responsibility on both sides. Her argument strikes me as assuming a kind of absolute voluntarism about acquiring responsibilities. We can't be assumed to take on a responsibility unless we choose to. Our child support laws show that, as a society, we don't think that. And one can just as easily argue that we should rethink our abortion laws in light of that as you can seek to revise our child support laws to make them more fair. The absolute right to abortion assumed by many on the pro-choice side of the abortion dispute relies on Shrage's premise that we can't acquire responsibilities merely because of the situation we find ourselves in. And it seems to me that in many areas of life we do assume we can involuntarily assume responsibilities, such as

(a) when a child playing stickball accidentally breaks a window
(b) when a witness to a crime accrues the responsibility to report it and to testify in court because of it
(c) when someone who sees an assault take place and is in a position to do something about it takes on a moral responsibility to do what they can, taking into account that their right to their own safety might weaken that responsibility but surely wouldn't remove it altogether
(d) when someone leaves a child on my front porch, and I have some obligation to make sure it receives the care it needs
(e) [added a few hours after initial posting] when someone ends up with a child with severe disabilities that require the kind of care that few parents would have thought they were consenting to when choosing to become parents
(f) [also added a few hours after initial posting] when someone chooses to have a child in the usual case, not knowing remotely the kind of work and commitment is required in raising a child to adulthood, at least not with their first child

The absolute voluntarist view about acquiring responsibilities seems obviously wrong once you think about other kinds of cases. So why should we assume we should make men less responsible for the kids they conceive engaging in activity that they know can produce children? And why should the absolute right to abortion rest on such a premise when we don't hold to that premise any other time? There are other arguments for a right to abortion, but this seems to me to be one of the more common ones that I find among those familiar with the philosophical literature, going back to Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous 1971 paper. I think this is one of that paper's most important assumptions, and it amazes me that so many people accept the arguments of that paper without grappling with this highly controversial assumption.


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I've been thinking about the concept of tokenism and why we find it problematic, given that virtually everyone who complains about tokenism thinks there is some good in having representation by those who are underrepresented in a particular sphere. What makes the difference between the cases where we find it unproblematic to try to get people more represented and those where we consider it tokenism? A few considerations come to mind:

The most obvious cases of tokenism are when someone just wants to appear forward-thinking and progressive by selecting people of an underrepresented group without really being concerned at all about the underlying ethical issues. If a college's admissions literature and website are littered with pictures of non-white students when such students are only 1% of the college's population, we might cry foul and wonder why they think they can pretend the school is more diverse than it is just to make themselves look good.

We should be careful here, of course. An institution might not be doing this just to look good. They might be thinking that portraying the student body in such an inaccurate manner will help attract students in those very groups, and they might have good motivations for wanting such a change. But it still seems wrong in such a case, even though it's not merely to generate a false view of the school to garner a better reputation. The dishonesty in the portrayal seems like a kind of tokenism. We might select people out of underrepresented groups to make it look like our institution is better than it is, or we might do so for purer motives, namely to try to make it better than it is, but either way the dishonesty of portraying it that way seems to fall under our concept of tokenism.

So is it basically a kind of dishonesty that makes something a case of tokenism? I don't think it's as simply as that. Consider a TV show that has their one token black in a mainly white cast. That black character might display all the stereotypes of black characters, in which case it might be criticized for stereotyping. On the other hand, it might display no such stereotypes, in which case it might be accused of sanitizing the character to make them more white-friendly. You might then think the critics are unfair. You can't win, no matter what you do? Actually, I don't think that's the problem. I think the no-win situation is set up because you don't have enough black characters both (a) on TV in general and (b) on the show in question. Even having two black characters, one of each type, is better than having one token black who fits either mold. The solution seems to me to be to have a diversity of black characters, some of whom display some stereotypical characteristics but who nonetheless are real characters, some of whom display fewer stereotypical characteristics but who nonetheless are real characters. What saves the day for a show that might be accused of tokenism is to have a variety of real characters showing a diversity of real-life traits from real people. Portray them so that the audience cares about them. Portray real inner conflict, hard choices, and so on. Make your characters of color as interesting and developed as all the other characters, and have enough of them across the variety of TV shows that we create, and you're a lot less susceptible to be accused of tokenism.

What does that suggest about what tokenism is? It's not just plain honesty, because there's plenty of room in there for trying to have as many characters as you can that don't fit well with the actual percentages of which black people have which traits. You don't need to have your black characters have children out of wedlock at exactly the rate that happens among black people in real life. You don't need to have them like hip-hop at the same percentages. You don't need to have them attending college or being incarcerated at the same rates. You need some level of honesty there to the point where you're not ignoring realities in society too much, but you can steer stereotypes by having lots of counter-stereotypical characters, and of course a lot of what you can do will be affected by what kind of show it is. Game of Thrones won't have anyone listening to hip-hop or being incarcerated in American prisons. The core problem seems to be, rather, that tokenism doesn't care about the people or characters enough to do much more than trot them out for the appearance. A character on a superhero show who is a token black might be stereotypical or might not be, but we won't care about the character very much, because the person isn't fleshed out very much. Tokens in college promotional literature are there for the appearance, and in a sense so are the undeveloped characters who are there just to have representation.

Now how does this relate to the use of tokenism-language in the context of affirmative action? Some conservative critics of affirmative action see it as harmful to those it's intended to help, partly because it isn't concerned with their success in college but just wants to have diversity as an element of its student body. It isn't concerned with finding students who will be as prepared to succeed, because it's more interested in showing off its diverse composition. In that sense, it would be like the case of admissions literature. But this isn't the only way to conceive of affirmative action. Even with the diversity rationale, one can be engaged with affirmative action policies in order to promote diversity, where there's a further goal for that diversity, and that can be to promote further racial justice for the sake of those who would be benefited by their being such racial policies. That motivation strikes me as not tokenist, even though the actions would seem to have roughly the same outcome with either motivation. So tokenism is not just about consequences. It's about why you engage in the actions you engage in to begin with.

I can imagine a student group at a college, maybe a religious or political group, that wants to seek more diversity. They might undertake efforts to promote their group among groups that are not well represented in their group at present. They might change their methods or approach to be more culturally acceptable to such groups. They might change their focus to include things people in those groups would care about. Is this tokenism? It seems to me that the answer depends on why they're doing it. If they want the people they're targeting merely because they want it to be true that their group is more diverse, I think it is tokenism. If they want them to be present because they think they themselves will be enriched by the experience, and the newcomers will benefit as well, then it seems to me not to be tokenism.

The same goes for inclusion in an academic conference or in high governmental positions. If a president seriously would like cabinet or judicial nominees to come from underrepresented groups, as both the last two presidents have (at least at times) shown concern for, then the crucial question is why. Is it to make the party or the administration look good, or is it out of a genuine concern for having diversity in that sphere of government? If I tried to put a conference together, and someone pointed out that none of the invited speakers were women, I might try to remedy that. Am I remedying it because I committed a faux pas and am embarrassed, or am I doing it because I think we all benefit by having more women presenting at philosophy conferences and because I think we have a systematic implicit bias against thinking first of women when thinking of the movers and shakers in a discipline like philosophy? The former might be tokenism. The latter seems not to be. But the actions are exactly the same.

This is a first attempt to think through this carefully. A number of questions remain in my mind. Are there any examples of what seems like tokenism that doesn't fit the kind of thing I'm saying here? Are there any examples that don't seem like tokenism that do have some of the characteristics I've been trying to identify tokenism with? It may well be that there's more complexity to what we typically call tokenism, and it might be that I'll need to figure out what to do when there are disagreements over what counts as tokenism. There's also the possible complication of whether tokenism is always wrong. Are there cases that we would call tokenism where we wouldn't find it morally problematic, or is it a term like 'racism' or 'murder' where we'd only use the term if we thought there was something problematic going on?

California has outlawed so-called ex-gay conversion therapy. Social conservatives who might want to express outrage at this law need to make sure they're going to be consistent with their own views on other matters. Also, surprising as it may be to some, there are reasons for those with more liberal views on these matters to worry about a law like this.

I'll start with the second point. Those who recognize homosexuality as a social construction should at least be open to a worry about this law. Most experts nowadays consider our notion of being gay as socially constructed. There have been different ways of conceiving of people with same-sex desires over history. In ancient Greece, for example, it was relatively accepted for older men to favor a sexual relationship with boys over that of their wives, not because they had some notion of people who have an orientation toward people of the same sex but because they didn't think they could have as deep an intellectual relationship with women, and they thought relationships that we would now count as pedophilia were a deeper form of love because they could involve intellectual conversations.

We now have a notion that there's a phenomenon called homosexuality, where a small minority among the population has sexual desires for people of their own sex rather than for people of the opposite sex. But most people recognize now, whether they approve of such desires or not, that it's more complicated than that. There are people who have both kinds of desires, relatively in equal proportion. There are people who have more one than the other. There are people who have one predominant at one time in their life but move to a point at another time where it's the other way around. There are people who move toward same-sex sexual interaction primarily for political purposes rather than because of some already-existing inner state of being primarily attracted along same-sex lines. But our social narrative primarily divides human beings into the binary of gay and straight, with some allowance for bisexual when we're feeling a desire for more precision. The variety isn't remotely captured by that, never mind the phenomenon of trans-sexuality, and the idea that being in one of the two categories of the binary is simply a matter of how someone was born isn't exactly borne out by science, even if there is some evidence that the underlying state of how one's desires are directly can be partially influenced by genetic factors.

Many on the left on these issues push for alternative conceptions of homosexuality, including allowing those who see their same-sex attraction in a way that resists being considered gay in the usual sense, and if same-sex attraction is much more complex than just being straight or gay, as many who might be inclined to favor a law like this might think, then shouldn't we be interested in allowing therapists to encourage moving away from the homo/hetero binary? But it seems to me that this law might ban therapists from doing that, because it would be helping move someone with same-sex attraction away from thinking of themselves as gay. Many on the left on these issues should see that as highly problematic.

It's less surprising to many to see social conservatives resisting a law like this, but such resistance isn't as easy to formulate as it sounds, because the grounds for it might conflict with other conservative views. For example, if we don't have a right to health insurance covering exactly the things we think are medically necessary, then we don't have a right to health insurance covering a particular therapy that we happen to want covered. If we don't have a right to doctors performing a particular procedure that we happen to want performed, then we don't have a right to this therapy if we want it.

That being said, conservatives can consistently hold that the government shouldn't interfere with what private counselors can do, even if what they want to do is disapproved of by the main professional organization. But most people do think medical services can be licensed, and certain things done by doctors can make them lose their license. So this is, at least in principle, something that is within the government's traditional range of control. But I'd have to see the law, because if the guy NPR had on opposing it is correct then it sounds like they outlawed a good deal more than what careful study has shown to be both ineffective and psychologically harmful (i.e. the conversion therapy itself) and will not even allow a therapist to help someone who has unwanted same-sex desires to live a life that avoids what they see as sinful and unwanted (which is not remotely the same as converting them away from a sexual orientation). I'm not sure there's any scientific ground for taking it to be harmful to choose a celibate life over fulfilling one's sexual desires, and therefore the normal licensing standards shouldn't require it to be banned.

There may also be a religious issue. They did apparently include a religious exemption. But not exactly. They included an exemption for counselors who are practicing religious officials of some sort but who are not licensed counselors. A pastor, priest, or other religious leader who happens to counsel is exempt. But a nun working as a licensed counselor in a more medically-oriented psychological practice is not exempt. And a licensed counselor operating a business not being run as a religious non-profit is not exempt. Is this a violation of free exercise? I suspect it is, at least in terms of the aspects that are banned that aren't demonstrated as harmful (such as helping someone to find a counselor who can help them live a celibate life or referring them to a therapist who will encourage them to think outside the gay/straight binary or allow them to think of themselves in a way that is more about having same-sex desires than about belonging to some supposedly-scientific category of being gay, which really involves more politically than many think, and someone who opposes those politics but does have same-sex desires may well not be gay in every sense). Again, this is assuming the opponent of the law on NPR represented it accurately, but the state senator who supported the bill on that show didn't offer any correction on the matter.

There's also the issue of viewpoint-neutral endorsement. This is another place where conservatives will have a harder time making their case. They tend to think there's no problem with the government or government employees endorsing statements of religious content, because the establishment clause only prohibits the setting up of an official government-run religion, and many conservatives don't even think this applies to states. After all, several states had official religions when they entered the union. So it's going to be hard to press this argument if you hold that sort of view on the establishment clause. You might, however, make an argument involving inconsistency among those who do think it's unconstitutional for the state to endorse religious content (or rule out religious content). And you might easily make the argument on policy grounds, rather than as a constitutional problem that courts can then deal with.

On the consistency issue, I think there's some case to be made, but it's because there's already serious inconsistency. If we take seriously the prohibition of even mentioning classic philosophical arguments like design arguments in a science classroom, on the ground that it's somehow endorsement of religion, then we already are banning lots of stuff that isn't remotely religion. Because the design argument need depend in no way on any controversial religious premise, it's not as if someone who endorses such an argument has to be following any religion at all. It could be a purely secular theist who endorses a design argument. And merely teaching the argument, rather than endorsing it, is certainly not endorsement of religion. So those who claim that that's importing religion into the science classroom have such a broad view of what counts as religion that it might well be very hard to see this law as not endorsing a claim that speaks to a religious issue. It's on such grounds that a federal court has ruled that it's unconstitutional to present the arguments against intelligent design in a state-run science classroom, because it took that to violate the establishment clause.

But a much more reasonable position would be that intelligent design is not necessarily religion, even if it's also not strictly speaking science (although I would argue, and have argued, that it's not any less science than the metaphysics that commonly gets done by physicists working on cosmology, quantum-theory, and space-time). Someone who holds this more reasonable position might nonetheless not hold the conservative view on the establishment clause and therefore think that President Obama shouldn't be invoking God the way he does or that it's unconstitutional to endorse actual religious content in a public school science classroom, such as endorsing six-day creationism because the Bible teaches it. On that sort of view, it's still easy to present an unconstitutionality argument for this law. After all, the legal issues are the same as the above cases, but without the ridiculous claim that philosophical arguments are somehow automatically religious just because a lot of religious people accept them (which would make most of our beliefs religious). Then all you need to do is recognize that the value of at least some of the therapy falling under this broad ban is both (1) not as clearly harmful as some of the therapy it bans and (2) something religious people can endorse because of their religion. In that case, the government is not remaining viewpoint-neutral on a religious matter without the strong argument that the therapy is harmful.

And even someone who does hold the conservative view on the establishment clause (or who isn't willing to argue a case base on existing but wrongly-decided precedent) can give a policy argument against this at the legislative level. It's not unconstitutional, on this view, but it's compatible with that to think that as a policy matter the government should remain viewpoint-neutral on controversial matters of religious disagreement that aren't demonstrably harmful the way medical professionals do take ex-gay therapy proper to be demonstrably harmful. The result is that this is just poor policy and should be opposed as bad law. And that's something that someone pretty far on the left on same-sex issues should be all right with. The government shouldn't tell us what to think about such matters, and it shouldn't stop us from getting counseling that fits with what sort of life we want for ourselves, and if a minor happens to want this sort of therapy it shouldn't be illegal for a counselor who is willing to do it or to refer someone to someone who will out of respect for the client's wishes as long as it isn't one of those demonstrably-harmful methods that the ban doesn't limit itself to.

So I think a lot of the conservative arguments against this ban need to be very carefully done to succeed, but I think there are arguments, and some of them might appeal to those more toward the left. But those are more against the law as it stands, rather than against a different ban that could have been enacted. I do think there are real tensions on the left in how these issues are thought of, and I'm not sure it's as easy to justify this broad a ban as I assume many on the left would think.

Interesting post at the Feminist Philosophers blog about Ann Romney's speech last night, where she recognizes systemic inequality between men and women, with women doing a lot more of the work on average than the men who share responsibilities with them. Is Ann Romney saying such structural and systemic inequality is just fine? I'm not so sure, and I'm repeating my comment on that post here. [Caveat: I didn't hear the speech or read the transcript of the whole thing, just what appears on that post.]

It's not clear to me that she's saying it's fine for women to have to work harder than men. I think she might just be saying that it's fine that life is isn't easy.

There's actually a little speech in the biblical book of I Peter that directs people in subordinate positions to do good to those over them, not because they deserve it or because anything unjust that they might do is legitimate, but because the more important goal is to win them over by good deeds. Feminism gets complicated when you're more concerned about the eternal salvation of those participating in oppressive structures than you are about the often-small ways that those structures manifest themselves on a day-to-day basis for those who happen to be affected by them in more minor ways.

It would mean, then, that you don't have to think those structures are perfectly all right to think that women should put up with them, because the putting-up with them is for a higher purpose. There's much of this kind of thinking in Augustine, who would accept any form of government for keeping order in this society, and how just it is isn't as important to him as going along with the laws Socrates-style but for the sake of winning over by good behavior those he sees as heading in the wrong direction spiritually. It allows him to think certain ways of ruling are intrinsically bad but are not worth resisting (and thus he has very mixed feelings about slavery, seeing something wrong with it and worth resisting on one level but also as an institution that Christians can work within to do a more important task of being a light to the darkness of the slaveowners. It's love for their enemy.

I don't how much of this approach would be manifest among Mormons, but I have to wonder if that's the kind of thinking that lies behind Ann Romney's speech. If I heard this kind of thing from an evangelical, it's how I'd take it, and evangelicals and Mormons are at least culturally very similar, even if they're worlds apart theologically.

This morning I was listening to yesterday's segment of Tell Me More on NPR on whether same-sex marriage would legally require allowing multiple marriage. The correct answer, of course, depends on which arguments are used for same-sex marriage, because some of them do require allowing multiple marriage, and some of them don't. If you argue that people should be able to marry whoever they want, as long as it's consensual, then there seems to be nothing to rule out multiple partners at once. If you argue that it's a violation of gay people's rights to prevent them from marrying someone they have an orientation toward when straight people get to marry someone they have an orientation toward, that sort of argument doesn't easily translate to marrying more than one person at a time. You're trying to give equal rights to everyone, and the rights you give might restrict it to one partner per person.

Jonathan Rauch was one of the guests on that segment. His overall argument is that same-sex marriage doesn't threaten traditional marriage but adds to it, since it doesn't actually detract from anyone's traditional marriage. It doesn't subtract marriages but adds them, and we need more marriage, so same-sex marriage can only help. His argument isn't sensitive at all to the lines of thought involving natural purposes, as traditionally marriage has been thought of, so it doesn't touch some of the more common arguments against same-sex marriage. But his dismissal of that kind of argument isn't new. He's written much of the subject and standardly argues that way. Here's he's assuming there's no such argument without actually arguing against it, but I think he has spent time arguing against it elsewhere.

But here's an interesting argument that's new to me:

Remember, fundamentally what I tell people is when straights get the right to marry three people or their dog or a toaster, gay people should have that too. But until then, that's not what we're talking about. We just want to be able to marry someone instead of no one.

On one level, this argument is silly. There's no ban on gay people marrying anyone, and there's no ban on them marrying anyone that other people of their sex can marry. In that respect, they have the same rights as straight people of their sex in a location where there's no legally-recognized same-sex marriage. What they don't have is the rights that people of the opposite sex have, namely to marry someone of their sex. So you can't argue for same-sex marriage by saying that a gay man doesn't have the same right I have to marry a man. As a heterosexual man, I don't have that right either. A gay man has the same rights I do with respect to the class of people we can marry. (Well, technically, that's true only if he's married. If he's not, then he has a much larger group he can marry, since it's above zero. So, to be more careful, an unmarried gay man can marry anyone of the same class of people that an unmarried straight man can marry.)

But what Rauch really means is that a gay person can't marry anyone in the class of people they'd want to marry, while straight people can. He's arguing for that right for gay people too. Given that he wouldn't want to marry a woman, giving him that right doesn't help him with the actual goals he might have for himself in marriage, which would be to be married to a man.

This argument, interestingly, would not help with interracial-marriage bans. Rauch's resistance to multiple marriages from a same-sex marriage perspective is that only allowing some options is enough. It's not violating his rights if you prevent him from marrying dogs, toasters, and so on, as long as you're doing that with straight people too. By the same reasoning, though, it's not violating his rights to prevent him from marrying black people, as long as you're doing that with straight people too. He's allowed for the compatibility of same-sex marriage with opposing multiple marriage on one level, but you have to look at all the moral positions and arguments he endorses to see if his view really allows for it. You have to bring in other moral premises to see why interracial-marriage bans are wrong, for example, because his argument doesn't get you that far. The question is whether other arguments he'd agree with can supply the necessary resources to argue against interracial-marriage bans. But then there's also the possibility that moral arguments he gives for same-sex marriage would also provide resources to argue against banning multiple marriages.

So his argument here doesn't show that he can resist multiple marriage consistently. It shows that someone could support same-sex marriage and reject multiple marriage. Whether he could depends entirely on the arguments he uses for same-sex marriage, some of which do require recognizing multiple marriage and some of which don't. I do think quite a lot of them do, and many of those are presented by people who want to avoid legal recognition of multiple marriage. This issue will eventually reach the courts, and it's one that those who deal in the business of moral and legal arguments should think about more carefully.

The Ninth Circuit has overturned Proposition 8 in California, which reinstated a ban on same-sex marriage as part of the California Constitution when the California Supreme Court had interpreted the California Constitution as requiring the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking them. Eugene Volokh has one of the better explanations of the reasoning that I've yet seen (but I haven't looked around too much yet). I have two immediate thoughts:

1. It seems clear that the Ninth Circuit is using a rational basis test, which is the strongest test the Supreme Court has been willing to give for sexual-orientation discrimination. As I've argued before, I think this is a mistake on the part of the opponents of Proposition 8. If they want the analogy with Loving v. Virginia and the overturning of bans on interracial marriage, they ought to be presenting this as a case of sex discrimination, not sexual-orientation discrimination. A black person under Virginia's law could marry a black person but not a white person. A white person could marry a white person but not a black person. So the marriage rights of a black person differed from the marriage rights of a white person in terms of who they could marry. That's race discrimination, which faces a strict scrutiny test, the strongest test the Supreme Court recognizes for discrimination cases.

Similarly, a restriction on marriage to opposite-sex couples does treat one group differently from another group. But those groups are not gays and straights. A straight man can marry the same people as a gay man. The discrimination is along sex lines. A man can't marry the same people as a woman. That's sex discrimination, by the same sort of reasoning that you find in Loving v. Virginia. It's not sexual-orientation discrimination. Sex discrimination faces intermediate scrutiny, the middle-level test of the three the Supreme Court recognizes for discrimination cases. Sexual-orientation faces only rational basis scrutiny, which is the weakest of the tests. So by Supreme Court precedent, the opponents of Proposition 8 would be better suited to pursue their arguments in terms of sex discrimination, which would be both more analogous to Loving v. Virginia and more difficult to get a law past it because of the higher scrutiny. But they continue to push it as a sexual-orientation discrimination claim, which I think helps their purposes much less.

2. The basic claim of the opinion is that there is no rational basis for a law like this, a claim that I think is obviously false. To pass rational basis scrutiny, all there needs to be is some sort of reason-based argument for the law or provision in question, not one that the Court even needs to think is a very good argument, just one that a rational person could support with some reasoning. It has to be a pretty grossly-awful argument to fail rational basis review. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld that stupid laws can pass rational basis review. The Ninth Circuit's opinion in this case says exactly that. Proposition 8 fails rational basis review because it doesn't even have a stupid but somewhat rational connection between the law and some hypothetical government interest. And the key point they were addressing was not same-sex marriage bans in general but just ones in states where there are already civil unions. The decision is silent on whether there's a rational basis for same-sex marriage bans themselves. Their argument is that there's nothing to a same-sex marriage ban when all the rights of marriage are already present. It's a symbolic law, and there's no rational basis for symbolic laws.

Basically what they're saying is that there's no even minimally-rational basis for reserving the word 'marriage' for opposite-sex couples while observing civil unions for the issues of rights. But I can think of several, and even if they're not very good arguments they might pass the rational-basis test as long as they're not such awful arguments that the reasoning is utterly unconnected with the law itself. Here are a few. Some people want to keep government out of marriage. Passing civil-union laws is fine, according to this view, but having the government recognize more marriages rather than fewer marriages is the wrong direction. I have a lot of sympathy for this view, and the reasoning strikes me as certainly passing rational-basis review.

Another basis is preferring an honorific title for traditional marriage because of its historic role and greater natural connection with childrearing. This is not a non-sequitur, since there is a greater connection between traditional marriage and childrearing than there is with same-sex marriage, and it doesn't have to pass the test of rigorous and careful argumentation to be a rational basis. The mere historical connection makes it not completely arbitrary, and that's enough to pass rational-basis review. So one could favor civil unions for actual rights while wanting to reserve the word 'marriage' for something that recognizes the traditional institution for its contribution to childrearing that the new-fangled same-sex marriage concept is not able to convey, and this is so even if it's not a very good ethical argument to reserve that word for traditional marriage. All that there needs to be is some non-arbitrary connection, and there's at least that.

A third argument I've heard sometimes is that same-sex marriage encourages legitimizing sexual relationships that are much more prone to divorce or breakup than opposite-sex marriages, and that result would undermine marriage as an institution. Again, this doesn't have to be a very good argument. It might well be a terrible argument. It might be that affirming same-sex relationships as marriages would actually have the opposite effect. But all that matters for rational-basis review is that a legitimate argument can be put forward that isn't completely unrelated to the state interest in question, and that condition seems to be met. You'd need to do some empirical study to show whether this is a good argument, but on the face of it it's not so stupid that it's irrelevant to the issue at stake. Some reasoning is put forward, and it's reasoning that has to be evaluated, reasoning that's not so obviously bad that you can dismiss it out of hand, and that's the test that the Ninth Circuit claims to be using.

As I've said, I don't think it's in the best interest of opponents of Proposition 8 to use rational-basis review when they can use intermediate scrutiny for sex-discrimination. Intermediate scrutiny requires that the basis being presented is substantially related to the legitimate government purpose, and I'm not sure all the above arguments would pass that. The third almost certainly wouldn't, in my view. I think the second might, and I'm not sure you can get out of the first one even with strict scrutiny. But my point is that they'd have an easier time of it if they didn't insist on treating this as sexual-orientation discrimination, which isn't the most accurate way to go anyway if they want to propose a parallel with Loving v. Virginia. I suspect it will all come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy anyway, though, and he's already on record saying that he thinks same-sex marriage is not required by previous Supreme Court decisions, so he'd have to think there's some new argument here that changes everything he's already written.

Russell Moore has a nice post about how, although there's generally a moral mandate upon Christians to adopt, there are plenty of people who ought not to be the ones to fulfill that mandate [ht: Justin Taylor]. In particular, certain kinds of issues tend to come up with adoptions that most people, because of the reasons they're interested in adopting are not well prepared for and do not have the commitment to see those problems through, which leaves kids twice orphaned in too many cases.

I think this is a nice example of what I've elsewhere called a secondary moral obligation, an obligation you incur because you fail at a prior moral obligation. You ought not to have the attitude toward children that you see them as fulfilling your needs, but if you do then it's immoral to adopt, even if it's generally a moral mandate to adopt when such immoral attitudes are not present (and they shouldn't be present) and when there aren't other extenuating circumstances making it a less good idea to adopt (whatever those might be, and I'm open to their being lots of them).

What Moore does not mention is that the same is true of having children naturally. If you have the attitude that children are to meet your needs, then you shouldn't have children, even if (and I know not all Christians agree on this) it's Christian teaching that we ought to seek to have children or at least be very open to it (as many believe it is; whether it is is irrelevant to my point here, but assume it is for the sake of argument). My suspicion is that many new parents who were seeking to have children were doing so for completely selfish reasons. It strikes me as a thoroughly immoral reason to want to have children, and it seems to me that it's just as immoral to go ahead and have children if your desire is for them to fulfill your needs. That's so even if there is a moral mandate upon Christians to seek to have children, as many Christians do believe.

What makes this a nice case of a secondary moral obligation is that you have two obligations that conflict, one of which only appears if you violate the other one. It's wrong to have this selfish kid-possessing attitude, and those who have it ought not to have children. But you ought to seek to have children (on the premise I've been assuming, at least for the sake of argument). There's no inconsistency in such a position, despite the initial surface-level appearance of two contrary obligations. You do have an obligation to seek to have children (at least certain people do, anyway, on this view), and you do have an obligation not to want children for the wrong reasons, but if you do have the wrong reasons for wanting children then you simply ought not to have children, even if that means failing in the first obligation. It's worse to seek to meet the first obligation but violate the second than it is to fail the first because you're meeting the second.

But it becomes a fairly messy question if children come along anyway unintentionally when someone has this attitude. The original obligation still remains in such a case, and you simply ought not to have this attitude, even though most people do before they have children. Once they appear, you ought not to rid yourself of them unless your situation is so bad that they'll have a much better home without you than with you (and this selfish desire isn't usually so bad as to generate that situation; other conditions need to be met for that). I would argue that someone with the selfish attitude toward children does conceive a child, they ought (barring other considerations) to raise that child and to remove that selfish attitude. But that's compatible with thinking they ought not to seek to have children until they can rid themselves of that attitude, especially when it comes to great expense as with adoption.

[cross-posted at Parableman]

In the online ethical theory course I'm teaching this summer, one of the students brought up the abortion question, which led to a discussion among the students, during which some of the usual points came up. I think I just realized more explicitly what's wrong with one common line of argument that I've seen on this topic.

It's often said that someone consents to parental responsibility by having sex. By engaging in behavior that has a risk of producing a new human life, one has agreed to care for that resulting child. A common response to this line of argument is that we don't apply the same line of thinking elsewhere. For example, we don't (or at least shouldn't) hold someone responsible for being raped just because she wears revealing clothing or because she leaves her house to walk to the house ten houses down, during which she risks someone dragging her off and raping her.

What I think I've just realized is that we're conflating two different kinds of responsibility. In the rape case, we're talking about whether someone ought to suffer the consequences of a small risk. The risk of getting raped while walking down the road is very small, and we don't usually say people deserve what happens to them merely because they were walking alone outside. But the abortion question isn't about whether suffering is deserved. It's about whether you have a moral obligation to do something about what results. Conception occurs. Now there's a tiny human organism that results from the behavior in question. So does someone have obligations that incur because of the small risk you took?

That's more analogous to whether I owe damages to someone if the baseball I hit goes through their window, which was a small risk but one I willingly took. Raising a child is a much more serious responsibility than paying a one-time monetary compensation for breaking a window, but the issue seems parallel in many ways (and the obligation might not be raising the child but might simply be going through with the pregnancy, which is quite a bit less at least). If it's not parallel in enough ways, it would be interesting to explore why. Francis Beckwith has pointed out that one indication why we might think we do consent to parental obligations merely from one sexual act is that we assume that very thing in our child-support laws. Should we also assume it in our abortion laws, or is there a morally relevant difference between the two situations (beyond the mere fact that we're talking about men in one case and women in the other)?

Update: An anonymous coward commenter has criticized this post in the comments of the Philosophers' Carnival that includes it. Maryann has closed comments, so I have to respond here.

1. The idea that this post contains any victim-blaming is ludicrous. I said nothing about any victim being blamed for any behavior that victimized the victim other than to say that people should not be blamed for what they're not responsible for. What I did say is that sometimes we incur an obligation when we are not to blame. How that amounts to claiming that you are to blame is beyond me.

2. There's some debate in the comments about whether I meant the baseball analogy to be an analogy with rape cases or an analogy with a case of consensual sex with no desire for children. I meant it as neither. In fact, it's not an analogy. It's an example illustrating that a general principle held by Thompson (which I discussed in point 1 just above) is in fact false. I had in mind only that principle when I gave the baseball case. I wasn't thinking it was an analogy for either case. It was simply given as a case demonstrating that we don't hold to such a principle unless we want to hold to it to avoid a conclusion we don't like about abortion. But what I say about the principle itself because of the baseball case does indeed apply to rape cases. That certainly doesn't mean I'm blaming any rape victims, though, because what I in fact said (as I said in point 1 above) is that any incurred responsibilities in such cases are despite not being blameworthy.

3. There's a claim that I held to certain conditionals and a response that I didn't include those conditionals and did a terrible job indicating that I meant them if I had meant them. Let me repeat my last two sentences: "Francis Beckwith has pointed out that one indication why we might think we do consent to parental obligations merely from one sexual act is that we assume that very thing in our child-support laws. Should we also assume it in our abortion laws, or is there a morally relevant difference between the two situations (beyond the mere fact that we're talking about men in one case and women in the other)?" That does entail, I think, the question: if we hold people responsible for something they're not to blame for in child-support situations, why shouldn't we do so in abortion situations?" And I don't think it's all that hard to get that out of my post if you actually read it.

A Puzzle

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1. A psychological or brain view of personal identity. In other words, either what makes me me is the psychological features of my inner self or my brain. Both views say the same thing about survival in brain transplant cases, so either view would do.

Do a brain transplant. Switch the brains of a man and a woman. If you did that to me, would I then be female?

Keep in mind -- I have the same brain, and that brain has my original male DNA. I also have a new body, one with the sex organs of a woman.

Pro-choicers regularly accuse pro-lifers of favoring policies that increase abortions by (a) being one-issue voters who care only about laws restricting abortion (and politicians who will appoint, confirm, or be judges who will move things back in a direction that allows more of such restrictions), (b) actively opposing laws and policies that will decrease the number of abortions, or (c) promoting policies that will actually increase the number of unwanted pregnancies.

I'm sure there are people who are inconsistent in applying their pro-life principles by doing such things, but there are plenty of unfair ways to make such arguments, particularly when they ignore other beliefs held by many pro-life people that make their position fully consistent.

For example, contraception decreases the number of unwanted pregnancies, it is argued, and therefore pro-lifers who want to decrease the number of abortions ought to promote contraception. So the charge is that pro-lifers who oppose contraception are thus inconsistent.

It doesn't take much reflection to see that this argument is patently unfair to some pro-lifers. Consider the following proposal. Let's kill everyone on the planet. That would surely decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies. But no pro-lifer would advocate it, because it would be wrong to decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies by using such a method. Now no one is offering that proposal, but consider the proposal in question. The suggestion is that by promoting contraception we would decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore we would decrease the number of abortions. You might think that this proposal is much better than simply killing everyone on the planet, which would also produce that same goal. In fact, it is. I'd be shocked to find anyone, pro-life or not, who wouldn't agree. But a proposal doesn't have to be as bad as killing everyone on the planet to be immoral, and at least one possible view would still consistently hold to pro-life views on abortion and anti-contraception views.

Some pro-lifers are simply opposed to contraception in principle. They think it's immoral. They surely don't think it's as immoral as wiping out all human life. But they do think it would be wrong to participate in it or promote it, and supporting policies that attempt to get more people to use contraception would indeed participate in and promote contraception. To such a person, it doesn't matter if they are opposing a policy that would decrease unwanted pregnancies. Decreasing unwanted pregnancies is a good thing, since it removes the occasion in which some people will do something immoral. But we shouldn't do something immoral ourselves in order to remove the situation where someone else will be tempted to do something immoral. So such a person is consistent with pro-life principles while opposing policies that promote contraception, and it's extremely unfair to such a person's actual views to accuse them of inconsistency before exploring what views they might have for resisting the promotion of contraception.

Similarly, if someone thinks it's immoral to promote economic policies that will put more people in better situations and thus remove some of the concerns that lead to abortions, then they should oppose those policies. Suppose the person is a pro-life economic libertarian of an extreme enough sort that they think welfare amounts to stealing, for example. They won't see the good consequences of welfare for those who are tempted to have abortions as good enough to overcome the wrongness of stealing from one group of people to help others. Preventing one bad situation that prevents a temptation for an immoral act is surely a good thing, but if it means adopting an economic policy that one considers immoral, it might eliminate that method, depending on what moral theory we're working with and how one sorts through potentially conflicting moral principles.

Now the argument is much better when directed against someone who doesn't see the policy in question as being intrinsically wrong but just sees it as a bad idea. Most economic conservatives don't oppose welfare programs at any level. Many pro-lifers don't oppose contraception as intrinsically wrong. In the first case, they have to weigh the bad consequences they expect from an economic policy they disagree with against the bad consequences they should expect if something isn't done to change the unwanted pregnancy rate. A lot more factors come into play here, such as which methods will be most effective at reducing unwanted pregnancies, which methods will have better consequences in other respects, how much energy the person is already putting into attempts that they don't see as having bad consequences, and how effective restrictive laws will be as compared with simply changing people's circumstances.

What about the contraceptive issue with those who don't see contraception as intrinsically wrong? A lot of pro-lifers who don't have a problem with contraception in principle will still be extremely hesitant about efforts to promote it among teenagers (or among the unmarried in general, depending on their views about sexual morality). One reason for this hesitation, I think, is that they see such promotion as endorsement of teenage sex (or unmarried sex), and they would see that as participating in something they shouldn't. Or it might be thought of in terms of promotion of something one wants not to promote. Then the wrongness of promoting something wrong or participating in something wrong might be decisive for someone, and we don't have an inconsistent position after all.

Then there might also be bad consequences to consider. I've seen claims that promoting contraception doesn't decrease unwanted pregnancies but actually decreases them. I've never looked at the details of studies on the subject, but I think the explanation for why this might be is that people who most (but not all) of the time use contraception are more likely to feel safer in avoiding contraception than without contraception-promotion, in which case they might have been more willing to abstain from sex than to engage in contracepted-sex most (but not all) of the time. Now it doesn't actually matter to my argument whether these claims are true. Perhaps this effect isn't very strong, and the effect of promoting contraception in preventing pregnancies is much stronger. What matters is that some people believe this claim to be true, and it's not totally unreasonable, even if a closer look at facts might disabuse someone of it (if in fact it's wrong, which I'm not taking a stand on one way or the other). That means they have a consistent position of why they think the effects of contraception-promotion do not actually decrease unwanted pregnancies, and thus they can consistently hold to pro-life principles and want to reduce unwanted pregnancies without wanting to promote contraception.

I recently listened to a Bloggingheads TV diavlog between Sarah Posner and Michael Dougherty, and along the way one of them (I believe Dougherty) mentioned an argument that I don't think I've ever heard before. Apparently some people have argued against promoting contraceptives because they think such efforts will lead to a bad consequence, not just in other areas, but one that has a direct impact on abortion. It may well be, as far as this argument goes, that promoting contraception will decrease the number of unexpected pregnancies, i.e. the number of pregnancies that were not wanted before they occurred. But emphasizing contraception might at the same time reinforce the sense that pregnancy is a bad thing worth avoiding. Of those unexpected pregnancies, such an increased sense of pregnancy as bad might increase the number of unexpected pregnancies been seen as unwanted. That might then increase the number of abortions resulting from unexpected pregnancies, even if the number of unexpected pregnancies goes down because of the contraception. You'd then have to see if it's possible to figure out which effect would be more significant, and my suspicion is that such a task would be very difficult, if not impossible, which might lead one toward caution about a policy that might have a good effect but might also have a bad effect. That would then contribute toward explaining the hesitation from some pro-lifers with respect to policies that promote contraception.

There are plenty of other things that might come to play here, but this should give enough sense that it doesn't automatically follow from pro-life convictions that one ought to favor policies promoting contraception or supporting economic policies that might have the effect of helping more women at risk for unwanted pregnancies to have more economically-viable situations where they'd be less tempted to have an abortion. Perhaps when all is said and done, the best pro-life policy is to oppose abortion and favor restricting it while also promoting contraception. Provided you don't think contraception is intrinsically immoral, that's going to depend on a number of other factors, including some empirical data that I'm not sure is readily available in an indisputable form. But it's not an automatic implication of pro-life principles, and how people settle those other issues will affect what they might consistently say about efforts to promote contraception. Similarly, it's certainly possible that pro-lifers ought to support some given effort to increase the quality of life of those who might be at risk for having an abortion. But whether they should consistently do so will depend quite a bit both on their other views and on empirical data that isn't easily available to most people and may, frankly, not even exist in any understandable form.

Secondary Moral Obligations

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There's a category of moral obligations that occur in funny circumstances. Given that you are doing a certain immoral thing, there are nevertheless obligations that you have. The pope has recently conceded (finally) that there are such obligations involving condom use. It's wrong to be a male prostitute, but it's "a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility" if the prostitute uses a condom. In other words, if you're going to be immoral, you do have the moral obligation of wearing a condom. You shouldn't be doing the initial immoral thing to begin with, but if you're going to do it you still have another obligation to be responsible and wear a condom, or else you fail at a further obligation.

The fullest quote I've seen is, "There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be ... a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes."

Perhaps we could call this sort of thing a secondary moral obligation, one you don't have unless you're doing something you have a moral obligation not to do.

Since some secondary moral obligations might be immoral themselves were it not for the primary moral obligation, there really is an interesting character to them. That's certainly how the pope's view in this case works. Condom use is normally immoral, according to his view. But given certain immoral actions, you then have a secondary moral obligation to perform that normally-immoral act of using a condom.

I want to say something about Andrew Sullivan's response, because I think Sullivan latches on to something important that most people haven't picked up, but he's also got it completely wrong in another respect. What Sullivan notices is that "Benedict has chosen a case where transmission of new life (barring a real miracle) is already impossible". It's not clear if he would say the same thing about a female prostitute, where conception might be possible. It's quite possible that this is why he chose this example. I'm not sure. Does the recognition of secondary moral obligations only occur when the stakes of the effects of risky sex are greater than the stakes of contraception, and the latter still appear in cases of heterosexual non-marital sex?

I suspect Sullivan is wrong about this, though, and the pope would still invoke what I'm calling a secondary moral obligation in cases where there's high risk of STDs with immoral sex of any sort, but Sullivan has given a possible distinction that might come into play. I credit him for spotting that possibility, but I'm wondering if he has any evidence other than the fact that he chose this example when he could have chosen another (which is no more than speculation, actually).

I have to criticize Sullivan's understanding of the larger issue. I don't think he gets the point being made. He describes this statement is taking one form of gay sex as being more moral than another. That strikes me as at least very misleading, if more moral means anything other than less immoral. When you say something is more moral, it sounds as if there's a continuum between things not moral and things most moral, and this is in between somewhere. That's not what Benedict said, though. What he said is that both are immoral, but one is moreso.

What he goes on to say next, however, does seem right to me. It does follow that moral considerations of this secondary sort would apply in gay sex. If gay sex is immoral, there are some instances that are less so than others. Anonymous gay sex is more immoral than gay sex in a committed partnership. Duh. But is such a position really anathema to the Roman Catholic Church? Is Benedict likely to say that there's no moral distinction between killing someone while robbing a bank in order to get away safely and taking sadistic delight in blowing up the entire bank with forty hostages as you go, even though none of their deaths were required for your escape?

I'd be pretty shocked if he thought such a thing. In fact, an alternate position by John Allen strikes me as more likely: "Pope Benedict XVI has signaled that in some limited cases, where the intent is to prevent the transmission of disease rather than to prevent pregnancy, the use of condoms might be morally justified." So the issue is intent, as is unsurprising. Pope Paul VI's statement on sexual morality allowed for some cases where an act that would normally be immoral might in certain contexts be justified given that the intent is not to prevent conception but to save a life. The case of a married couple with one spouse HIV-positive seems to be another, and I know of several instances of Catholic bishops and even a cardinal endorsing condom use in such a case (and the entire Phillipines conference of bishops even made a public statement to that effect).

So is Sullivan's conclusion that the pope is now opened up to a gray-scale of morality rather than black and white morality? Hardly. There's still a fact about what you ought to do and what you ought not to do. The gradations are not between right and wrong, where it's factually uncertain which things are which (or even worse that there are no facts about where the line lies). I've seen nothing to indicate anything other than a sharp line between right and wrong in Benedict's moral thinking. It's just that there are degrees in how wrong something can be. Out of the things that are simply wrong, some have a greater degree of wrongness to them than others. Using a condom to have gay sex in a committed same-sex legal marriage is, on the Catholic view, simply wrong, even if it's not as bad as having unprotected sex with a male prostitute in a one-time encounter.

Given what the pope's position is, it's interesting to see the headlines news outlets are giving to the pronouncement (and I'm just looking at what's on the top of the Google listings). Yahoo's is pretty good: Pope says some condom use 'first step' of morality. CBN seems to be using the same headline. ABC is also in this category, as is Catholic Herald.

Politics Daily, on the other hand, gets it entirely wrong: "Pope OKs Condoms in Some Cases, Such As Prostitutes Avoiding HIV". That doesn't get the point at all. It's not that he's OKing it for them. It's that he can see it as a movement from being thoroughly immoral to being a little less immoral, all the while insisting that they should be doing none of it to begin with. You have the same problem with the New York Times: Pope Says Condoms to Stop AIDS May Be Acceptable. NPR has the same problem with different language: Pope Says Condoms Can Be Used in Some Cases. Al Jazeera has an initial headline that's fine, but then they have a sub-headline that's as bad as any of these. First: Pope softens stand on condoms. Then the summary immediately below says he considers it acceptable in some cases. Others in this category include the New York Post, CNN, and the Huffington Post. The Daily Beast is perhaps the worst: Pope Partly Endorses Condoms.

FOX News is only a little better: Pope: Condom Use Can Be Justified in Some Cases. The reason I think that's a little better is because it's actually true, whereas the NYT and Politics Today headlines are simply false. The pope has not said that it's OK or acceptable to use condoms to stop AIDS, just that it's less immoral than engaging in such behavior without a condom. I think it's technically correct to say, however, that it can be justified in some cases, if the view is that you incur a moral obligation to use a condom in such circumstances by engaging in the immoral behavior. But it's pretty misleading. It suggests that this is all right, even if it doesn't go as far as the others in asserting that. MSNBC has a similar headline, with "OK" instead of "Justified". That strikes me as better than saying he OKs it or that it may be acceptable, but I think calling it justified is a little better.

[cross-posted at Evangel]

Update: The discussion at Evangel has brought up a couple things I wanted to mention here (but I recommend reading the comments there, which are much more full than anything I expect here).

1. Steve Hays provided a link to this story, which suggests both that this isn't really all that new in the thinking of the Catholic hierarchy but that it would be perceived as a change in policy by most in that hierarchy.

2. David Nickol quoted the section of Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae that I was remembering that allows for non-contraceptive intents behind actually-contraceptive measures, as long as there's no contraceptive intent. Here's what he quotes: "the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from--provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever." That confirms my sense of things that lay behind my response to Sullivan.

Update 2: Well, here we go. He didn't mean to include just male-male acts.

Update 3: Steve Hays sent me a link to another article confirming the information in U1 of the first update.

You Shall Give To Him Freely

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There's a fascinating element in the discussion of the Sabbath year in Deuteronomy 15. The general law requires releasing people from their debts every seven years. That means if you lend to someone a few months before the release of debts, and the person is too poor to pay it back in time, you have to release them of the debt. You might expect this to give rise to unprecedented amounts of stinginess in the time before the year of debt-release. The law anticipates this, though, and it commands Israel not to use such fears as excuses not to give. It's sin to refuse to give in such a situation, and they were commanded to give and not grudgingly. It says God will reward those who get stiffed in such a situation.

In the debate between complementarianism and egalitarianism about gender distinctions in marriage, egalitarians often say that calling on a woman to submit to her husband is unfair when the man isn't called on to do the same. This does ignore that the same Ephesians 5 that tells women to submit to their husbands commands husbands to love their wives as self-sacrificially as the love that brought Christ to die for the church, which I think should count as at least as significant a level of sacrifice as what the wife is asked to do. But one thing complementarians often say strikes me as missing the point. They say that in any ideal marriage this shouldn't be an issue. If the husband is loving his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her, then it won't be difficult at all for the wife to submit to the husband.

One hint that something is amiss here comes from considering the flip-side, which would be: If the wife submits to the husband, then it won't be difficult to love her as Christ loved the church. Really? I suspect it would still be immensely difficult for a sinful husband or wife to follow these commands even with a sinless spouse.

But I think the main reason I don't like that complementarian response is that you shouldn't have to go to the ideal situation to see that these commands are all right. If complementarianism is correct, then wives should submit to their husbands even if their husbands are complete jerks, and husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church even if their wives are as unlovely as someone's inner self could be. Indeed, I would say this is so even with an egalitarian interpretation of this passage. This is simply Christian teaching. Philippians 2 makes this utterly clear. Christ's model of giving himself for us is just plain the model for Christians and how we should treat others, regardless of how those others treat us. And this is simply continuous with the Hebrew scriptures, including the Mosaic law, since the very same principle underlies the command in Deuteronomy 15 that lenders should give to the poor even when there's little chance of getting the money back before the debt-release year (and many other places in the Torah, Proverbs, prophets, etc. along these lines).

So, while I don't think the complementarian reply above is correct (i.e. saying that in an ideal situation it isn't all that bad to follow complementarianism), at the same time I think objections to complementarianism that involve any claim that it asks too much are, at the very least, contrary to the very spirit of Christ and his call on the church. There are those who will resist such an ethic. They will say that Nietzsche was right in his diagnosis of Christianity as a slave-morality. I'm willing to grant that to a point, as long as they recognize that they resist Christianity in doing so. What I will have little patience for is those who think they can maintain a Christian ethic while thinking any unfairness here is immoral.

It reminds me of a discussion I overheard between two atheist philosophers, both of whom had some Christian influence when they were younger. One was giving a certain argument against a certain conception of hell, saying that it would be unfair, and the other said that it won't make much sense to use an argument that assumes God is fair against the followers of Jesus, since Jesus described God in terms of an employer giving the same amount of pay to the laborers who only worked an hour as he gave to those who had been working all day. These were day-laborers who subsist on a day's wage to live for the day. The Torah even requires people to pay day-laborers every day for that very reason. Jesus says God is like the farmer who pays the day-laborers a full day's wage even if they don't earn it. There's nothing fair about that arrangement, and yet Jesus says it represents what God's character is like. It's not remotely fair to ask Israelites to give to their poor fellow Israelites who will almost certainly end up with no debt due to the closeness of the year of debt-release. But it's very clear that biblical morality requires doing exactly that sort of thing and much more.

[cross-posted at Evangel]


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There's a particularly bad argument against those who accept the biblical prohibitions against same-sex sexual acts, and I think I've just realized something new about the argument. The Torah prohibitions on male-male sex acts are declared to be an abomination. There are those who want to reconsider how to interpret the biblical texts who want to minimize this statement. They point to the fact that eating shellfish is also an abomination in the Torah, which means it can't be all that bad to be an abomination in the Torah.

Anyone who has thought for a little bit about the relation Christians see between the Mosaic law and the New Testament should see through such an argument, because the New Testament explicitly affirms the judgment of male-male and female-female sexual relations as bad while explicitly rejecting the dietary laws that the ban on eating shellfish was a part of. So that objection is pretty naive. Any Christian interpretive grid that seeks to minimize the Torah prohibition on same-sex sex acts can't do so merely because we nowadays think it's all right to eat shellfish, because there's explicit allowance of that in the New Testament and explicit continuance of the harsh language about same-sex sex acts.

What occurred to me today, when reading Christopher Wright's discussion of Deuteronomy 25, is that there's a further problem with this objection. It's not that the occurrence of eating shellfish lowers the negative judgment on homosexuality because an innocent enough act gets called an abomination. It's the evil of eating shellfish and the other things that fall under this same term that go way up, and that includes the example Wright discusses from Deuteronomy 25 (cheating people in commercial ventures). Eating shellfish in the covenant context of God's people called together to be separate from their neighbors is tantamount to deciding for yourself what you think God's standards should have been when he instituted the dietary laws. We can't read our acceptance of shellfish-eating into how serious eating shellfish would have been taken among those at the time.

The dietary laws were an important distinguishing feature of how Israel was to live in contrast to those around them. It reflected both abandonment of pagan worship practices and an affirmation of the things in nature that, in the Mosaic covenant, represented wholeness and unity among God's people. It's easy to lose sight of how serious it is to reject that when you think about how easily Christians eat shellfish today. It's a complete misunderstanding of the cultural, indeed covenant, context of the Torah to think that the inclusion of shellfish as an abomination makes abominations not very serious.

Those who continue to hold to a high view of scripture, including the Torah, aren't going to be able to dismiss the Torah pronouncements against abominations as easily as pointing out that we all eat shellfish now and don't consider it an abomination. Any Christian does consider it an abomination to do something with the import of what eating shellfish would have been in that context. We just rightly don't think eating shellfish in our context would have the same import. So any reconciliation of the prevailing secular view of homosexuality of our day with a high view of Christian scripture is going to have to look elsewhere. I don't think it's all that plausible that we should lessen how serious we take the Torah prohibitions on what it calls abominations to be just because it's called an abomination to eat shellfish. We should instead increase our sense of the horror an ancient Hebrew would have had at the idea of eating shellfish

[cross-posted at Evangel]


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I previously posted my worries about the glossary entry for the word 'gay' in Elizabeth Meyer's Gender, Bullying, and Harassment. I'm worried about the following entry also, for several reasons:

Heterosexism: A bias toward heterosexuality that denigrates and devalues GLB people. Also, the presumption that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality or prejudice, bias, or discrimination based on these things.

The first thing to notice is that this is a disjunctive definition. It lists three different things, any of which it will count as heterosexism. This isn't problematic in itself. There are plenty of words that can apply to a number of different things. Some of them are due to plain old ambiguity, e.g. the word 'bank' can mean a financial institution or the sandy shoreline alongside a river. More often a term can refer to several phenomena that all fit under the same category.

What might generate more of a problem is when a term is defined to refer to a number of different phenomena that are sufficiently different and should not be confused with each other. This isn't necessarily a problem, though. For instance, there are plenty of things the word 'homicide' can refer to, and they've of a pretty diverse sort. A homicide could be a cold-blooded, premeditated murder, or it could be an unplanned violent killing in the heat of an argument. It could be criminal but accidental manslaughter, or it could be excusable self-defense. In all cases, someone has been killed, and thus it counts as a homicide, which etymologically and in actual contemporary usage simply means the killing of a person by someone else.

Where it becomes more problematic is if the word you choose to use for this is loaded in such a way that its very usage carries the sense that anything it applies to is equally wrong. This is a new enough term that I think it's fair to say that people who are using it as Meyer does are in fact in the process of coining the term and determining its meaning by how it's used. The fact that it's deliberately a parallel with words like 'sexism' and 'racism' is important here. I suspect Meyer, and those whose consensus she wants to represent in her glossary of how such terms are used, wants all three things she lists to be seen as serious as racism and sexism are. The problem is that a case can be made that they're not. Let's separate the different meanings.

A: A bias toward heterosexuality that denigrates and devalues GLB people
B: the presumption that heterosexuality is superior to homosexuality
C: prejudice, bias, or discrimination based on these things.

It seems to me that anyone satisfying meaning A is engaging in pure evil, but meanings B and C can range over a wide enough range of things that they don't belong in the same category at all. Some of that wide range is clearly morally problematic (perhaps stemming from something like what meaning A is getting at). Some of it is simply a matter of empirical discovery, but some of it involves moral judgment.


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I'm reading through the glossary in Elizabeth Meyer's Gender, Bullying, and Harassment, which I've been reading for an invited book review, and I noticed something that seemed odd to me in the definition for 'gay':

The preferred term for a person who engages in same-sex relationships and identifies as a member of this community. It is preferred to the term homosexual, which has scientific meanings that apply specifically to same-sex behaviors and does not consider a person's identities and relationships. Gay can refer to both men and women, although many women prefer the term lesbian.
Now I can think of three different things that could be distinguished here:

1. The sexual orientation: to use Meyer's own glossary definition, "the genders and sexes to which a person is emotionally, physically, romantically, and erotically attracted" -- such as homosexual, bisexual, omnisexual, heterosexual, and asexual -- and is informed by innate sexual attraction." This is a factual issue about which kinds of people the person is attracted to.

2. The identity: how someone identifies themselves in relation to sexual orientation. This isn't the same as sexual orientation, which is a question about who someone is attracted to. It's a question of how the person defines themself.

3. The behavior: how someone acts with respect to people of different genders or sexes. e.g. actually engaging in romantic and/or sexual relationships, making efforts to pursue such relationships, and so on.

I know people who would consider themselves homosexual according to sexual orientation as it's defined in 1 but who do not see their identity defined that way and in fact want to resist it. It's not clear that they are gay in the sense of Meyer's definition. This observation is completely independent of the moral question of whether they should resist it. They in fact try to, which means they don't identify as gay according to how Meyer defines that term.

What I find odd is that they also don't count as homosexual, the way Meyer defines that in the definition of 'gay' above, but they do count as homosexual by the definition of 'sexual orientation' in 1. If they are celibate or engage in heterosexual relationships (two men I know in this category are heterosexually married and, as far as I know, faithful to their wives), despite that not being their innate preference, then they do not participate in homosexual behavior as in 3. They merely have the attraction as their primary attraction, simply 1. The definition of 'sexual orientation' in 1 specifically allows for this possibility. But the definition of 'gay', which excludes it, also excludes it from what it says about the term 'homosexual', which it says "has scientific meanings that apply specifically to same-sex behaviors and does not consider a person's identities and relationships".

So is being homosexual a matter of sexual orientation, as in 1, or is it a matter of behaviors as Meyer distinguishes it from being gay in her definition of 'gay'? Or is the term ambiguous between the two and can sometimes mean one and sometimes the other? I thought I knew what it meant, but now I'm not so sure if she's capturing an important use of it that I haven't noticed before. If that's so, then perhaps we need to make distinctions clearer and figure out a term for the sexual orientation that doesn't imply anything about behavior.

You know, I'd have thought that philosophers would be the ones pointing out contradictions in what other people are doing, not contradicting themselves. But the American Philosophical Association has just passed a new policy regarding discrimination that seems to me to be flat-out inconsistent. It very clearly commits something that it itself condemns as unethical.

According to Alastair Norcross (via Brian Leiter), the policy will be worded as follows:

The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. This includes both discrimination on the basis of status and discrimination on the basis of conduct integrally connected to that status, where "integrally connected" means (a) the conduct is a normal and predictable expression of the status (e.g., sexual conduct expressive of a sexual orientation), or (b) the conduct is something that only a person with that status could engage in (e.g., pregnancy), or (c) the proscription of that conduct is historically and routinely connected with invidious discrimination against the status (e.g., interracial marriage). At the same time, the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; and it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliation do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement. Advertisers in Jobs for Philosophers are expected to comply with this fundamental commitment of the APA, which is not to be taken to preclude explicitly stated affirmative action initiatives.

For those who don't know the background behind this, the change is mainly due to a petition to change the APA policy, because it's been widely believed to have been inconsistent before the change. The problem case has been (mainly) Christian institutions that have statements of faith or conduct that faculty have to subscribe to, that include statements that homosexual conduct is immoral and that faculty will not engage in it. Members of the APA petitioned to declare such institutions discriminatory according to the APA's own anti-discrimination policy, which at the time did prohibit discrimination against someone for sexual orientation but did not indicate whether it would count it discrimination to refuse to hire someone who is actively gay while being willing to hire someone who is gay but celibate (e.g. the Roman Catholic Church has exactly this distinction with priests, and a lot of evangelical institutes of higher learning have exactly this practice, as I understand it; it was definitely the policy of the requirements for leadership of several Christian ministry groups I know of on campuses, two of which I know to have had either (a) celibate gay or (b) heterosexually-married but homosexually-abstinent gay or bisexual leaders).

So due to this petition, the APA has indeed indicated that it would include such policies as discriminatory, but it didn't go all the way to banning schools with such policies from participating in APA activities such as the main publication for advertising jobs in the profession. They'll just report which schools don't indicate compliance with the new policy and investigate any schools with actual complaints, indicating also which schools have been investigated and found non-compliant. I don't think the APA has actually achieved the result of consistency now that the petitioners have gotten what they wanted (which some insisted they were supporting only for the reason of getting the APA to act consistently with their own policy). In fact, I think now they've simply instituted a new inconsistency and worked it into their explicit statement.

Consider a college that expects its faculty to refrain from male-male and female-female sexual acts. According to the policy, such a school is discriminating against sexual orientation by discriminating against the "normal and predictable expression" of homosexuality. Such a school would be flagged as discriminatory. But that means the APA is now differentially treating that school and schools that don't make such distinctions. In other words, they are discriminating on the basis of the behavior of requiring faculty to conform to a moral code that includes abstaining from gay sex. Such discrimination is not a problem as long as it's not along the lines of anything in the list or anything that's the "normal and predictable expression" of anything in that list (or one of the other two requirements, but those aren't relevant here). But conservative evangelicals, for example, do consider such conduct immoral, and they do want their faculty to uphold a moral standard on such things. It is in fact the "normal and predictable expression" of conservative evangelicalism to insist that your institution's faculty not engage in gay sex. That means the action of flagging such schools as discriminatory is itself discrimination against religion, based on the "normal and predictable expression" of that religion, i.e. by the policy's own standards.

You could run a similar argument based on political convictions, which is also in the list. Someone, for political reasons, might oppose the normalization of homosexual sexual behavior and thus want their politically-conservative college to reflect that in the moral conduct required of faculty. That means the APA policy is also discriminatory against the "normal and predictable expression" of such political convictions. For that matter, you could say exactly the same thing about a school that doesn't cater to a certain group but that refuses to hire KKK members, which certainly is a "normal and predictable expression" of the KKk's political convictions. The new APA policy begins to look ridiculous once you examine its implications. I don't think it's possible to treat all the categories on their list as equally protected without contradiction, at least if different treatment according to the "normal and predictable expression" of being a member of the category can count as equivalent to different treatment because of merely belonging to the category.

Last night I was catching up on PEA Soup, and this excellent post by Jussi Suikkanen caught my attention. It's about the harm of rape (in particular of men raping women), not just to the woman being raped or even to all women but even to all men, including the rapist himself. One thing I appreciate about the post is a pretty clear listing of ways that rape causes harm in a much broader way in society than it might seem if you just focus on the act of rape itself.

One key element is missing, though. The most significant way that a man harms himself by raping a woman is the harm caused to himself merely by doing such an immoral thing. By committing such a terrible act, he diminishes his well-being in unmeasurable ways. A crucial element of experiencing the good of this life is being a good person. Without good moral character expressed through good actions, no one can live the best life available to us in this life. It would be much better to lack all the kinds of goods that Suikkanen focuses on if having them meant being an evil person.

On a different note, I want to affirm Suikkanen's overall point and expand it a bit. I appreciate Suikkanen's resistance to the common treatment among some feminists of rape as a zero-sum game that sets up social structures to benefit men at women's expense. I have similar resistance to the parallel reasoning that treats anti-black racism as benefiting white people at the expense of black people. There certainly are social structures that harm black people in ways that few white people experience. If you want to call this white privilege, I have no objection to that, as long as it's clear that the racist structure isn't giving whites a boost. Even if there's some boost from it in one respect, the harm to everyone from the existence of such racist structures has become so obvious to me that I can't see privilege of this sort as a real privilege.

If I have an easier time getting a certain kind of job compared with black applicants because of unconscious anti-black bias on the part of the hiring committee (e.g. they have lower expectations for black applicants without having an explicit view that black people are less intelligent or less capable), then I guess there's some sense in which I can benefit from white privilege. But the existence of that sort of privilege is itself a negative, not just for the black people who have a harder time getting a job because of it. It's a harm to me too (and not just because my wife is white and my kids mixed race). It's a harm because it diminishes my interaction with those who might resent me because of my race. It's a harm because the kinds of cooperation and mutual trust among members of the same society is weakened. It's a harm because it makes it takes more work and more thought to be a good person with respect to those of other races. It's a harm because "keeping blacks down" in any sense and to any degree will weaken the good contributions of black people to society as a whole, of which I'm a part. Much will slip through (e.g. much of what some call "white culture" has been so strongly influenced by black culture over more than a century of mass media that has included black entertainers that there's really no such thing as white culture). But the fact that it's still seen as "white culture" and therefore "other" by many black Americans is not just unfortunate for people who have that attitude but for the enrichment of all Americans. I could go on and on.

This is at least one reason for resisting the narrative that paints white privilege as almost a conscious cause of all structural and institutional racism in society. It's common, especially among this influenced by Marxian analyses, to think of power structures in society that perpetuate themselves. I have no problem with this. It seems obvious to me on reflection that there are such self-perpetuating structures. The key objection I have is that many who hold such a view attribute a rational character to these structures, as if white privilege is perpetuated by deliberate choices by those in power (which in this case might not just be heads of corporations or politicians but in some cases might be every white person who benefits), with the goal simply of maintaining that power.

This was true enough with Jim Crow, and it makes the best sense of some really crazy historical moments (like the Supreme Court definition of Mexicans as white that allowed systematic exlusion of Mexican-Americans from juries even though it was already accepted as unconstitutional to exclude blacks from juries systematically). But does it explain why generational welfare inheritance is more common among blacks than whites? Did the white liberals who concocted welfare intend it to be a way to keep black people dependent on the government in order to preserve white privilege? Even my most cynical moments don't go that far. (They only go as far as suspecting that politicians knowingly put band-aids on problems that they know will not solve them in order to appear to be doing something, but the goal there isn't to keep black people down and preserve white privilege but rather a very different selfish motive -- an individual motive to maintain one's political position, completely independently of race.)

Most of the time I'm not so jaded about people's motivations, though. Welfare was never really seen as a political move to try to gain points while doing nothing. Most supporters of particular welfare policies have genuinely seen it to be a good thing, something to help those who are less fortunate and could use a leg up. It wasn't until the Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform that we had a distinction between (1) those who rely on welfare because they can't work or are temporarily needing assistance while they seek a job or seek education for a job and (2) those who seek assistance merely to avoid working. That welfare reform brough some problems with it, but it fixed something the original creation of welfare created that was probably unintentional but was an unfortunate consequence. When welfare was massively expanded in the 1960s in a way that got self-sufficient black Americans to become generationally dependent on welfare, which in turn caused many of the more serious inner city problems in many predominantly-black neighborhoods, I don't think many if any of its original supporters had any clue what kind of serious consequences the program would lead to. They just rightly saw that some people in need would be helped (and probably wrongly saw that some who didn't need help should be ushered into that help as well).

There's no need to impugn the motives of such people. But I think it's that kind of inference that the usual narrative of white privilege often involves. It doesn't follow from the facts about how these self-perpetuating social structures work, even apart from its dependence on false judgments about harm and benefit.

Every once in a while I run into someone criticizing the Bible because it contains some depiction of someone doing something immoral, usually when the text never endorses that act or even if it's clear from the general context that the narrator considers the act downright evil. For example, Richard Dawkins objects to the story of Jephthah's rash vow, that if God gives him victory he'd sacrifice the first thing coming through his gates to greet him as he returns home, only to be greeted by his daughter, so he sacrifices her. His reason for objecting? Well, Jephthah did something obviously wrong. So the Bible must not be a good guide to immorality.

As has been said many a time, Dawkins would fail an introductory philosophy or religion course if he submitted materials from his book or similar quality work for such classes. This idea that the mere inclusion of an immoral act in a narrative somehow makes that narrative immoral is downright crazy. No one really believes that. Murder mysteries would suddenly because evil, for instance, because a murder does take place in them. You couldn't have crime-fighting stories of any sort, because those would contain evil acts to be fought against.

Nevertheless, despite this idea being absolutely ridiculous, it apparently comes up in contexts that have nothing to do with the Bible. There's been a campaign against the forthcoming Stargate Universe, the third (and I think what may well be the best) series in the Stargate franchise. Darren Sumner of Gateworld has an excellent discussion of what these objections are and why they fail completely.

Aside from the fact that it's pretty dumb to criticize a show you haven't even bothered to wait to see when you have at best partial information, the argument itself seems silly. It's been rumored that there will be some temporary body-switching, with the consciousness of one person controlling the body of someone else in a different galaxy (which the Stargate franchise has done several times before), only this time the controlling parties will have sexual encounters using other people's bodies. That raises obvious moral questions, in particular if the owner of the body in question didn't consent to have their body used this way. But merely depicting them something doesn't imply endorsement, and it's almost certainly true (given what I know from the Stargate writers) that they will want us to question whether this is ok, again assuming no consent (and we haven't been told if there will be consent to use each other's bodies this way by mutual agreement, which for all I know will be part of the arrangement).

The claim (see the comments) is that it's rape, and they shouldn't be depicting it. Well, we don't know if they'll be depicting it. But they do depict rape on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, or at least they sometimes come close enough. They did depict rape on Battlestar Galactica. There were people who objected to the latter, but I never understood why the mere depiction of rape, especially when it's absolutely clear that the people doing it are being downright evil, is somehow wrong. It was, in that case, an easy way to show the morally degenerate state of the Pegasus crew under Admiral Cain's command. The Galactica crew were certainly not perfect, but the Pegasus crew had gone well over the edge to true evil. That scene made that abundantly clear, and it was good storytelling.

The difference here, as some commenters in that thread point out, is that main characters carry this out. But main characters can be morally flawed in a good story. They can even be pretty evil. Why is it immoral for a storyteller to have a main character do something as bad as raping someone? I see no argument for this claim anywhere in any of these discussions.

But comparing these two kinds of fallacious criticisms at least helps me understand that such shoddy thinking isn't present just among those seeking to have any argument, no matter how bad, against the Bible. Those who want to have any argument, no matter how bad, against a forthcoming TV show will resort to the same tactics. So maybe this isn't a problem just among those who want to attack Christianity, the Bible, or religion. It occurs much more generally than that.

I totally missed this. According to Dale Carpenter, the Obama Administration has endorsed all the conservative arguments against same-sex marriage. I wonder if that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it does seem as if one important argument that's roundly derided by most of my philosopher friends is present in the DOJ brief, and it's an argument that I think is exactly right (even if very unpopular among those who favor same-sex marriage).

The DOJ argues that it doesn't violate equal protection on sexual orientation grounds to fail to recognize same-sex marriage, because gay and straight people aren't getting different marriage rights as each other. Gay men are free to marry anyone of the same group that straight men are free to marry -- women. It's true that gay men can't marry other gay men, but neither can straight men. So any discrimination that's taking place isn't according to sexual orientation. Men of both orientations (gay and straight) are being treated equally. You might argue that it's unfair because one is able to marry according to their preference and the other isn't, but they are strictly speaking given the same marriage rights, and it isn't discrimination along sexual-orientation lines. There's a much better explanation of what's going on, which I'll get to in a moment. But I wanted to say that I'm glad someone left-of-center is acknowledging this, because it seems obviously true to me and seems completely the wrong way to argue that this is discrimination. (The DOJ apparently doesn't intend to argue that right now about marriage, though. The Obama position is pretty clear that there shouldn't be a federal-level recognition of same-sex marriage but that there should be a federal-level recognition of civil unions with all the civil rights that marriage would convey.)

I've seen all manner of twists of logic to try to resist this conclusion, but I don't know how you could get around it. It's not sexual-orientation discrimination to treat all gay men and straight men equally any more than Prohibition was discrimination against drinkers of alcohol. It simply wasn't. Everyone was prohibited from alcohol, not just drinkers. It certainly affects those who drink in a way that it doesn't affect those who don't, but that doesn't mean that drinkers were being discriminated against, since that would involve being singled out with a law that doesn't apply to others. Being singled out with a law that others don't care about isn't the same thing as being singled out with a law that only would apply to some people. Requiring people to wear motorcycle helmets doesn't affect me because I don't ride a motorcycle, but I'd have to wear a helmet if I were to ride one, so it's not discrimination against motorcycle riders.

Nevertheless, there's a discrimination argument that the DOJ brief doesn't acknowledge. In fact, there are two. I think these arguments are both also very obvious once you consider them, so it surprises me that they don't deal with them at all. Most people on the right on this issue don't accept these arguments, and I think there are things they can say in order to justify such resistance, but the claim in both cases does seem at least initially plausible to me.

One kind of discrimination involved with not allowing same-sex marriage is discrimination against couples on the basis of their being same-sex. The above argument is only about individuals. I don't think this would be discrimination against a gay individual, but you could much more easily argue that a couple who is same-sex is being discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Technically speaking, that's not right either. Two straight men could, in principle, decide to go against their sexual orientation and seek civil marriage. The discrimination here isn't really according to sexual orientation, then, but according to same-sex pairings vs. opposite-sex pairings. Treating a same-sex couple and an opposite-sex couple differently is discriminating against the couple who is being denied a privilege or right that the other couple is given.

(This gets immensely complicated in terms of the logic of it once you accept intersexual, transgender, or transsexual members of pairings, so I'm ignoring that for the sake of this argument. I don't think it affects what I'm trying to argue in any significant way, so I think for simplicity's sake it's not problematic to do so.)

The other argument is still about individuals but is not about sexual orientation at all. Denying a man the right to marry another man is discrimination if women are allowed that right. The same is true of denying a woman the right to marry another woman when a man can do so. But this isn't sexual-orientation discrimination. It's sex-discrimination. Men are given certain rights or privileges not given to women, and women have rights or privileges men don't have. This argument seems to me that it should be utterly obvious once it's made clear.

I've several times seen people refer to studies showing that abstinence-only sex ed programs don't work. What they mean by that is that people who go through the abstinence-only programs aren't any more likely than those who go through comprehensive programs to have had unprotected sex. If the goal is to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies by encouraging people not ready for parenthood not to engage in sex at all, it seems not to work. I didn't look closely at any of these studies, just accepting that they were correct, because I've never favored only telling people to abstain. There's nothing wrong with providing information about condoms and hormonal methods of contraception. In fact, without providing the full information, some might never realize the failure rates of various methods of contraception and those that do choose to use them might not do so properly, thus trusting increasing the unreliability of something they rely on. So it's counterproductive for those who want to reduce sexual activity even apart from pregnancy and STDs to resist presenting comprehensive information.

Someone (I don't remember who) recently directed me to this study. I haven't checked any other studies as closel, but I checked Wikipedia for any further long-term studies on this, and I didn't find anything but this study and a study on a different topic about how some abstinence-only programs didn't do it right (i.e. they had some false information in their educational package). If this data is correct then those who have been posturing about abstinence-only programs not working have been spinning the science with as much ideologically-motivated one-sidedness as such people regularly accused the Bush Administration of doing, not exactly the best behavior among those accusing others of being anti-science for doing the same thing.

A lot of criticism of abstinence-only sex ed has been that it's lack of information about contraception leaves kids with the wrong information, thus making it more likely that they won't use proper precautions if they do have sex. This turns out to be disconfirmed. The kids who went through the abstinence-only programs were as well-informed on such matters as the kids in the control group, and they didn't have any higher rate of unprotected sex than anyone else. It may well be that comprehensive sex ed would have led to their being more informed than average, but it's not as if abstinence-only sex ed made them less-informed, as many opponents of abstinence-only have been claiming. Given this study, it seems that it's just as much anti-science to call abstinence-only education dangerous and even a cause of unwanted pregnancy and the spread of STDs as it is to promote abstinence-only education as the best method of preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancy. Such behavior is irresponsible and pretty obviously motivated by ideology while at odds with the facts, the very thing the Bush Administration has repeatedly been accused of doing on this issue.

When you look at the fine print, you can also see that this is looking at the long-term effects of early abstinence-only programs that aren't continued in high school,and according to this story they did find an initial effect of delaying the first sexual encounter that dropped off in later years, the same later years that these kids weren't continuing to receive abstinence-only sex ed. Isn't that a bit suspicious if the conclusion is supposed to be that abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work? It's not clear that this study really shows what it's been taken to show, which is that abstinence-only sex ed doesn't work.

Keep in mind also that there is a study that shows that a number of abstinence-only programs had curriicula that included falsehoods and questionable elements. So if you examine just the actual abstinence-only programs, it doesn't necessarily tell you what would happen if it were done with more care to present the correct information. Even if some of the false information might have led some to be more likely to be abstinent, it may have gone the other way with some, especially those who know the information being presented is false, which could incline some to reject everything that's being said as a result, including the abstinence message and the correct rates of failure of condoms or other contraceptive or STD-preventative measures. Remember that we're talking about teenagers here. Also, some of these programs were determined to be teaching religious doctrine. I have no idea what that means, and I'm certainly aware that some things claimed by some to be religious doctrine simply aren't, e.g, that life begins at conception, while others are, e.g. that it's morally wrong to engage in sex outside marriage (although I think a secular argument exists for such a view). But the point is that some might turn off to the whole enterprise if their view is that this is religious education.

So what they study does seem to show is that earlier abstinence-only sex ed, as it's actually been taught (as opposed to how it should be taught), doesn't seem to affect later sexual behavior if that kind of sex ed doesn't continue into high school, but it doesn't tell us anything about what happens if it does continue, and the fact that some of these programs were presenting false information might skew the results in either direction. It may well be that comprehensive sex ed would do better on the measure that we're discussing, but this study doesn't help us know that, and I know of none that do. I do see some that show increased effectiveness among those receiving comprehensive sex ed over control groups, but until we have a long-term study that actually looks at those who receive abstinence-only sex ed in high school, the facts simply aren't fully available on that question, and it would ideally help if someone could conduct a study on the best abstinence-only programs compared to abstinence-only programs as they actually occur, to see if there's any difference.

The Obama Administration has signaled that it will rescind the Bush Administration's executive order providing for freedom-of-conscience protection for health care workers who seek to refrain from activity they consider immoral. The motivation for this, according to the article, is that existing laws already provide some of the intended protection, and what the newer executive order does add might be unwelcome. The only examples given of what's unwelcome is that it would allow health care workers from refusing to take part in certain activities that might prevent abortion, such as providing information about contraceptives.

The question seems to be whether it's worse to do (1) something that has a negative consequence in making it more difficult in certain circumstances to find health care workers who won't abstain or (2) requiring people to do something they consider immoral. This should be a no-brainer for anyone who isn't a consequentialist. It's much worse to allow the unwelcome consequence than to perpetuate immorality yourself, and it's pretty downright evil to force people to do something they consider evil just because you would prefer a certain result that they might also prefer.

So this explanation won't fly. I'm curious to hear if they have anything else to offer, since I know President Obama has a track record of offering a multitude of contradictory explanations of his controversial acts, so I know he's creative with this kind of thing, but I'm having trouble seeing a motivation for this that a reasonable person could actually have.


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