Sunday, June 16, 2019

Fiddling While Rome Burns: Ryan Anderson's Lecture on the Catholic Crisis

Recently, Ryan T. Anderson was appointed as the first St. John Paul II Teaching Fellow at the University of Dallas, where he delivered his inaugural lecture on "Catholic Thought and the Challenges of Our Time."  Here's the video of his lecture.

He presents the history of the Catholic Church as a story of answering challenges to the truths taught by the Church.  First, the early Church answered challenges to its truths about God.  Then, the Church during the Reformation answered challenges to its truths about the Church itself.  Now, today, the Church must answer challenges to its truths about human nature--about man as created in the image of God.  He then spends most of his lecture arguing that Karol Wojtyla (who became Pope John Paul II) and Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI) have rightly defended the Catholic truths about human nature, which can resolve the current crisis of the Church.

What is most remarkable about this lecture is not what he says but what he doesn't say.  He says nothing about scandals in the Church over the clerical sexual abuse of young boys and seminarians and over the predominant homosexuality of the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy that has been responsible for covering up priestly pedophilia.  In particular, he says nothing about the fact that both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were surrounded by homosexuals who hypocritically condemned homosexuality as sinful, while protecting tens of thousands of sexually abusive priests, which included some of the greatest pedophiles and sexual perverts of the past 100 years--such as Father Marcial Maciel, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, and Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, who abused thousands of children and seminarians.  He says nothing about the evidence that in the United States somewhere between 6% and 10% of the Catholic priests are pedophilic sex abusers, and elsewhere in the world the proportion is probably much higher.

Anderson is utterly silent about the many revelations of these facts--such as Carlo Vigano's letters and Frederic Martel's book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy.  Moreover, he has only one sentence (at the end of the lecture) about Pope Francis, while remaining silent about Francis's warning about the hypocrisy and corruption of homosexuality in the Church: "Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life."

This is the true crisis of the Catholic Church that has driven many Catholics away from their Church, and which may well soon destroy the Church completely.  I suspect that Anderson cannot confront this crisis because to do so would force him to consider the possibility that the crisis arises from the Church's false teaching about the human nature of sexuality, which can only be overcome by formulating a true account of the natural law of human sexuality.

As one illustration of the confusion in the Church's teaching on sexual morality, consider what Ratzinger has taught about homosexuality.  He has affirmed the traditional teaching that homosexuality is utterly abhorrent because it is "against nature" in that same-sex pleasure has no procreative end.  But then in his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (1986), Cardinal Ratzinger distinguished between the homosexual "condition" or "tendency" and homosexual "acts," and then claimed that only homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered."  And yet he also said that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder" (sec. 3).  A few years later, however, in the New Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the Church embraced Ratzinger's distinction between homosexual "tendencies" and homosexual "acts," and affirmed that only "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."  The Catechism even declared: "Homosexual persons are called to chastity.  By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (par. 2359).

The "Christian perfection" of homosexuality?  Does this imply that priests and clerics and even popes can be homosexual in their inclinations as long as they don't actually practice homosexuality--or as long as they are homophilic without being fully homosexual?  Or is it self-contradictory to accept homophilic inclinations as natural but not homosexual actions?

There is some evidence that the recent popes--Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis--have tried to live a life of homophilic chastity with their homophilic inclinations sublimated into "loving friendships" (such as Benedict's homoerotic love for Georg Ganswein), and in doing this they perhaps followed the example of Paul who struggled with "a thorn in the flesh."  But how is this consistent with Benedict's teaching that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder"?

Does the pervasive practice of homosexuality among priests and clerics show the failure of Benedict's intellectual project for separating homophilic inclinations from homosexual acts?  Is it unnatural to demand that homosexuals deny their sexual nature?

And does this confusion about homosexuality show a more general confusion in the Church's teaching about human sexuality that comes from a failure to recognize the natural goodness of sexual pleasure as serving the good of conjugal bonding even when it does not serve the good of procreation?

To answer these questions, Anderson--and other traditionalist Catholics--would have to recognize and speak about the true crisis of the Catholic Church as arising from its false teaching about human sexuality.

I will continue with this line of thought in my next post.

I have written previously about Ryan Anderson here and here.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Aquinas's Esoteric Teaching on Homosexuality as Naturally Unnatural

Pope Francis has opened up a debate within the Catholic Church as to whether homosexuality and same-sex marriage can be tolerated or even blessed by the Church.  On the one side, the anti-Francis priests and prelates insist that the orthodox doctrine of the Church is clear in condemning homosexuality as sodomy--the "vice against nature"--and thus contrary to both natural law and canon law.  On the other side, the pro-Francis priests and prelates suggest that this doctrine might need to be changed so as to recognize the moral dignity of homosexuals.

In his recently published book--In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy--Frederic Martel has made the shocking claim that the great majority of priests and prelates--including those in the Vatican--are homosexuals, and therefore the battle over homosexuality between the anti-Francis conservatives and the pro-Francis liberals is actually a battle "between two homosexualized factions of the Church" (90).  Oddly, then, the conservative Catholics condemning homosexuality display the hypocrisy of "homophobic homosexuals" (51).

Since Thomas Aquinas has long been seen as the authoritative philosopher and theologian for the Catholic Church, it's not surprising that part of this debate over homosexuality has been a debate over how to interpret Aquinas's teaching on the natural law of homosexuality.  What I find fascinating about this is how it reveals the two levels of Aquinas's writing--the surface level that conforms to the popular opinion of Aquinas's time and the hidden level that conveys to the careful reader Aquinas's secret teaching.  The anti-Francis traditionalists can point to Aquinas's exoteric teaching that homosexuality is the "vice against nature."  The pro-Francis liberals can point to Aquinas's esoteric teaching that homosexuality is natural for those individuals with a natural inclination to same-sex love.

Shortly after being elected Pope in 2013, Francis called for Synod on the Family to meet in Rome in 2014-2015.  This synod brought together all of the cardinals and a large number of bishops to debate questions about the doctrines of family--such as how the Church should judge divorce and homosexuality.  Francis asked Lorenzo Baldisseri, an Italian bishop, to organize the preparations for the synod with the help of one of the most gay-friendly cardinals--the German Walter Kasper--who would lead the fight for sexual liberalism against Francis's conservative opponents.

From his interviews with Cardinal Kasper, Martel learned that Francis found a way to enlist Aquinas as a supporter for his pro-gay agenda.  Adriano Oliva is an Italian Dominican living in Paris who is one of the leading scholars on Thomas Aquinas.  He is the president of the Leonine Commission which is the program of the Dominican Order for preparing critical editions of all of the works of Aquinas.  Early in 2015, he sent a letter to Kasper describing his work on a text that would interpret Aquinas as supporting homosexuality as a natural human propensity for some individuals, which might support the Church in recognizing same-sex unions.  Kasper passed the letter onto Pope Francis, who so liked this work that he asked that Oliva's text be distributed to the participants in the synod.  Later that year, Oliva's text was published as a book in French: Amours: L'Eglise, les divorces remarries, les couples homosexuels (Paris: Cerf, 2015).  It has not yet been translated into English.

                                                                                          Adriano Oliva

Although Aquinas is easily quoted as teaching that homosexuality is "against nature," Oliva points to some largely ignored passages in the Summa Theologica (particularly, I-II, q. 31, a. 7), where Aquinas says that the homosexual inclination is natural for homosexual individuals, and so homosexual love is part of the natural law for those inclined by their nature to it.  (Aquinas's works in Latin and English are available online.) In one sense, "nature" is what is common to humans and animals, such as the natural inclinations for the self-preservation of the individual (through eating, drinking, and sleeping) and for the reproduction of the species (through sexual intercourse of male and female that leads to procreation).  From this point of view, the sexual union of men is contrary to the nature of the species as inclined to reproduction.  But it can be "connatural" (connaturale) for those individuals who have a natural desire for same-sex union, just as it is natural for hot water to give heat.  (Connaturale generally has the same meaning as naturale, although connaturale seems to refer to what is "natural" for particular individuals or a group of individuals rather than the whole species.)  So, for those individuals naturally inclined to it, homosexuality is naturally unnatural!

If homosexuality is natural for the homosexual individual, then it would be naturally good for that individual, because, as Aquinas says, "everything to which human beings are inclined by their nature belongs to the natural law" (I-II, q. 94, a. 3), and because "that which is the end of certain natural things cannot be evil in itself, because things that exist naturally are ordered to their end by divine providence" (SCG, 3.126).  Every natural inclination aims at some end that is good.

This interpretation of Aquinas supporting a gay Thomism provoked a furious rebuttal from traditionalist Thomistic scholars.  Five Dominicans--three from the Angelicum, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome, and two from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.--published a disdainful attack (published here in First Things).  They accused Oliva of misreading Aquinas in the most absurd ways.  So, for example, in considering the passage Oliva cites as supporting homosexual acts as natural (I-II, q. 31, a. 7), they explain:
"it can happen that what is unnatural for human beings in general can turn out to be somewhat 'natural' for certain individuals, because their nature has been altered.  For example, some sick persons enjoy eating earth.  This is not really natural for them, Aquinas explains, but is more properly understood as a corruption of their nature.  What is unnatural for most (eating earth) becomes 'natural' for them, but only in a qualified way."
"Aquinas then states that due to bad 'customs' or habits, some men eventually find delight in eating human beings, or in sexual union with animals or other men (coitu bestiarum aut maculorum).  So, for some people, cannibalism, bestiality, or homosexual intercourse can become pleasurable as quasi-natural, because past sinful acts distort their nature."
"Oliva celebrates this text.  He thinks it shows that homosexual acts are natural for homosexual persons.  And what is natural must be good!  Also, for Oliva, Aquinas places the origin of the inclination for gay sex in the soul of the homosexual person.  That is, this inclination comes from the most intimate part of his being, and it moves all the way to sexual union.  Oliva concludes that we can distinguish between gay sex sought simply for physical pleasure, and the tender gay sex that comes from the homosexual person's most intimate self.  Indeed, homosexual persons are called to live out the inclination which is natural for them, namely, in fidelity to another person of the same sex, and enjoying sexual acts not primarily for pleasure but as expressions of love.  The Church should bless such unions." 
 "Now if, as Oliva proposes, Thomas means that the homosexual inclination comes from the most intimate part of the person's soul, then the same reading must apply to Aquinas's mention of cannibalism and bestiality.  Yet this is clearly absurd.  Aquinas cannot mean that cannibals and practitioners of bestiality are following the inclinations of their most intimate selves.  That is precisely why Thomas mentions custom. . . . Oliva's claim that, for Thomas, some persons are born with a homosexual soul, is outrageous as a matter of textual interpretation.  It would mean that, for Aquinas, others are born with cannibalistic souls, and others with souls geared to practice bestiality."
But notice what the Dominicans have done here.  They cannot deny that Aquinas in this passage really does say that homosexuality is natural--or connatural--for some individuals, and that's what Oliva stresses.  But then they point out that in the context of the whole passage, Aquinas's teaching here is incoherent.  Homosexuality is natural for some individuals, but it's also unnatural, because it's actually a corruption of their nature by custom, as is the case for cannibalism and bestiality.  So, homosexuality cannot be natural after all, but only "quasi-natural" or natural "only in a qualified way."

(For the argument that this passage is coherent if one properly understands what is meant by the "connaturality" of homosexuality, see a paper by J. Budziszewski on "The Natural, The Connatural, and The Unnatural."  I must admit that I am struggling to answer his argument.)

When a careful thinker and writer like Aquinas writes an incoherent passage, we have to wonder why.  Maybe he just fell here into sloppy writing.  Or maybe he intentionally wrote this incoherent passage so as to convey different meanings to different readers.  Most of his readers--like the five Dominican fathers--will see him accepting the popular opinion of medieval Christians that condemns homosexuality as being just as unnatural in its corruption as cannibalism and bestiality.  But a few careful readers--like Oliva--will suspect that Aquinas is casting doubt on this popular opinion (even as he appears to endorse it) by saying that homosexuality can be natural for some people, while protecting himself from persecution by hiding this secret teaching from his popular readers.

The problem with esoteric writing, however, is that when it's successful, it's almost impossible to prove to those readers not inclined to look for it.  The best that one can do is to point to a pattern of writing that hints at a secret teaching that is unpopular for the writer's general audience, which must be hidden from their view, while being revealed to a few careful readers inclined to doubt popular opinions.  (I have written a series of posts on esoteric writing here and here.)

Consider this passage:  "certain special sins are said to be against nature, and so against the commingling of male and female, which is natural for all animals, is the sleeping together of men, which is specially said to be the vice against nature" (I-II, q. 94, a. 3, ad 2).  Immediately after this passage, Aquinas writes: "because of the diverse conditions of human beings, it happens that some acts are virtuous for some people, as proportionate and suitable for them, which are nonetheless vicious for others, as disproportionate for them" (ad 3).

So, having just said that homosexuality is "said to be" the "vice against nature," he then says that what is a vice for some people can be a virtue for others, if it is proportionate to their individual temperament.  Should the careful reader consider the possibility that while homosexuality is "said to be" unnatural by most people, who are naturally heterosexual, homosexuality can be naturally virtuous for those individuals naturally inclined to it?  That's the conclusion drawn by John Boswell writing about this passage: "In the end Aquinas admits more or less frankly that his categorization of homosexual acts as 'unnatural' is a concession to popular sentiment and parlance" (Christianity, Social Tolerance3, and Homosexuality [University of Chicago Press, 1980], 328).

Consider also how when Aquinas says that homosexuality is against nature because it violates the natural law of procreation, he contradicts what he says in defense of virginity as a virtue for those who choose to remain celibate (like himself) because this suits their natural temperament (II-II, q. 152, a. 2).  To the question of whether virginity is unlawful, Aquinas answers no.  The first objection to his answer is that virginity is unlawful because it violates the natural law of procreation as necessary for the preservation of the species.  Here is his reply to this objection:
"A duty may be of two sorts: it may be enjoined on the individual, and such a duty cannot be ignored without sin.  Or it may be enjoined upon a multitude; in this case, no individual in the multitude is obligated to fulfill the duty . . . . The commandment regarding procreation applies to the human race as a whole. . . . It is therefore sufficient for the race if some people undertake to reproduce physically."
Similarly, Aquinas argues that while natural law dictates marriage directed to reproduction and the rearing of children as a natural good for most people, because this is a general inclination, nevertheless some individuals will have a natural temperament that suits them for a life of celibacy, which need not impede the natural good of reproduction as long as most people marry and have children (ST, suppl., q. 41, aa. 1-2).  Aquinas leaves his careful reader to apply this to homosexuality and conclude that same-sex coupling does not impede reproduction by heterosexual couples, and thus does not violate the natural law of reproduction.  In this way, homosexuality is naturally unnatural.

In the nest post, I will have more to say about Martel's book on the Catholic priesthood and Vatican as the world's largest homosexual organization.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Is Masturbation Worse Than Rape? Thomas Aquinas's Esoteric Writing About Sodomy

Among the sins of lust, according to Thomas Aquinas and the Catholic Church, the greatest is the "sin against nature," which includes masturbation, homosexual intercourse, bestiality, and any "unnatural, monstrous, or bestial form" of sexual activity--such as fellatio, cunnilingus, or interfemoral or anal sex (Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 154, a. 11).  Traditionally, all these forms of non-procreative sex--with orgasmic pleasure achieved outside the coital insertion of a penis in a vagina--have been condemned as sodomy.  Aquinas indicates that the first obvious objection to this is that surely the sins of lust that harm our neighbor--such as adultery and rape--are greater sins than the sins against nature that harm no one (ST, II-II, q. 155, obj. 1).

In response, Aquinas bites the bullet and replies to this objection by insisting: "Just as the ordering of right reason proceeds from man, so the order of nature is from God Himself; wherefore in sins against nature, whereby the very order of nature is violated, an injury is done to God, the Author of nature" (q. 155, a. 1).  To support this claim, he quotes a passage from Augustine's Confessions (3.8.15), in which Augustine speaks of the "disgraceful acts against nature" (flagitia contra naturam) committed by the people of Sodom (reported in Genesis 19) as a violation of God's law deserving God's punishment by annihilation of the city. Augustine explains:  "the social bond which should exist between God and us is violated when the nature of which he is the author is polluted by a perversion of sexual desire."

Notice what this means: masturbation, fellatio, and cunnilingus are worse than rape!  Most of us--including most Catholics--will find that hard to swallow.  Some readers--myself included--will find Aquinas's reasoning here so implausible that they will suspect that Aquinas himself does not believe it, and that he is engaging in some esoteric writing--suggesting that his exoteric endorsement of the Catholic Church's condemnation of the "vices against nature" is stated in such a way that careful readers will see a secret teaching contradicting the public teaching.  (Previously, I have written posts here and here about Aquinas using secret writing to take the side of reason against revelation while living in a community where the Church enforced belief in revelation.)

This raises at least two questions.  Are there any persuasive arguments for condemning and punishing all forms of sodomy as contrary to natural law?  And if these arguments turn out to be remarkably weak, does that suggest that there might be some hidden motivation in the Catholic Church for professing these arguments--perhaps a hypocritical opposition to homosexuality from homosexual priests who live double lives?

My post here is on the first question.  My next post will be on the second.


There are three strange features of Aquinas's reply to that objection.  The first is that the quoted passage from Augustine's Confessions does not explicitly identify the "disgraceful acts against nature" committed by the people of Sodom.  The Old Testament is not clear about whether the people of Sodom were punished specifically for homosexuality or for some other misconduct.  Shortly after the passage in the Confessions quoted by Aquinas, Augustine quotes Paul in Romans (1:26) as condemning lust for "that use which is against nature."  But Augustine does not quote the entire passage from Paul here identifying this sin against nature as homosexuality: "Among them women have exchanged the natural use for the use which is against nature; and men too, giving up the natural use of women, burn with lust for one another" (1:26-27).  (This passage from Paul in Romans 1 is noteworthy in that it is the only statement in the Bible that condemns not just gay men but also lesbian women.)

The second strange feature of Aquinas's reply is that he does not challenge the objector's claim that the "vice against nature" does not harm other human beings.  This is a crucial point for determining the legal regulation of sodomy, because since Aquinas says that it is not proper for human law to prohibit all vices, but only to prohibit those vices that are harmful to others--such as murder and theft--it follows implicitly that even if Christians must condemn sodomy morally, they cannot rightly punish it with legal coercion (ST, I-II, q. 96, a. 2).

In the Old Testament, sodomy is punished with death (Leviticus 20:13); and for that reason, sodomy had been a capital crime throughout much of the Christian world until the 19th century.  In the United States, sodomy was a crime in many states up to 2003, when the Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas struck down such laws as unconstitutional.

In contrast to the Old Testament, the New Testament does not recommend any legal coercive punishment for sodomy, although it does recommend that Christians condemn and punish it as practiced by members of the Christian churches.  Paul teaches the Christians in the Corinthian church that those in the Christian community guilty of sodomy and other sexual immorality must be punished by being banished from the community; but the Christians should not go to the courts in Corinth to seek judgments against these evil-doers (1 Corinthians 5-6).  Sodomites and other such sinners banished from the churches will be punished by God with eternal damnation in the afterlife.

Paul writes: "For what is it to me to judge those outside?  Is it not for you to judge those inside?  But God is to judge those outside" (1 Cor. 5:12-13).  Here is the New Testament scriptural basis for a Christian libertarianism, which enforces Christian morality among those within the voluntary association of the Christian churches, but which does not coercively enforce this morality through law.  So as long as sexual immorality like sodomy does not harm others, it can be permitted by human law, with the understanding that it will be judged by God in the afterlife.  (I have written about this Christian Lockean libertarianism here, here., and here.)  Aquinas seems to agree with this.

And yet even if sodomy is harmless, Aquinas indicates, it is worse than harmful sexual sins like rape, because sodomy is against the order of nature and thus an injury done to God as the Author of nature.  But this is a third strange feature of Aquinas's reply to the objection, because he must assume a sexual teleology of procreation that is too narrow to account for the full range of human sexual nature.

John Corvino has made this point well in his book What's Wrong with Homosexuality?  He very briefly explains this in a video here.  Here is a longer (1 hour) video with his famous lecture "What's Morally Wrong with Homosexuality?"

Homosexuality and other forms of sodomy, Aquinas claims, are all "unnatural," because they cannot result in procreation.  Just as eyes are for seeing, ears are for hearing, and feet are for walking, genitals are for procreating.  It is immoral to use one's genitals to achieve orgasmic pleasure without achieving procreation, because that violates the natural purpose of those organs.

Aquinas does recognize that nature is variable in that human body parts can have multiple uses, so that one can properly use a body part for something other than its primary natural purpose.  For example, one can choose to walk on one's hands.  But still, Aquinas observes, in walking on one one's hands, "man's good is not much opposed by such inordinate use" (Summa Contra Gentiles, 3.122.9).  By contrast, it might seem that sodomy undermines the natural human good of procreation.  "Every emission of semen in such a way that generation cannot follow is contrary to the good of man" (SCG, 3.122.5).

There are three obvious problems with this reasoning, however.  The first problem is that sexual pleasure can serve some natural ends other than procreation.  Aquinas himself concedes this when he says that marriage is naturally directed not only to procreation but also to the conjugal bonding of the couple.  Heterosexual couples often have sex so that mutual pleasure strengthens their bond to one another, even when they don't want to procreate or cannot procreate; and to do this, they might engage in non-coital sexual acts such as fellatio, cunnilingus, or interfemoral sex. This being true, homosexual acts can promote this same natural end by reinforcing the intimate bonding of homosexual couples.  To deny this, one would have to argue either that conjugal bonding without procreation is not a natural human good or that gay men and lesbian women cannot achieve this good.

The second problem with the claim that sodomite sexual acts cannot achieve procreation is that couples can contribute to the procreation and rearing of children through adoption or in vitro fertilization, even though the adoptive couple has not produced the children through coital intercourse.  Consequently, gay and lesbian couples can achieve both of the natural ends of marriage--conjugal bonding and parental care.
The third problem is that those who choose not to directly procreate themselves are not necessarily undermining the good of procreation.  After all, Aquinas himself was a celibate monk, and he claimed that those who chose celibacy might have a "natural temperament" for celibacy.  So refraining from procreating does not deny the natural good of procreation.

These obvious problems with the Thomistic natural law of sodomy as against nature have led some proponents of natural law to propose an alternative--the "new natural law."


Robert George of Princeton University is one of the leading proponents of the "new natural law."  He has indicated that the Thomistic natural law argument against sodomy as unnatural fails:  "It is often assumed in treatments of sexual ethics that the central argument from natural law theory against non-marital sexual acts is simply that such acts are unnatural, that is, contrary to the direction inscribed in the reproductive or procreative power.  This argument, often described as the 'perverted faculty argument,' is easily disposed of" (1999, 161).  He explains: "It is not clear, for example, that acting against the orientation of a biological power is necessarily wrong, nor is it clear that somomitical and other non-marital acts are really contrary to that direction" (1999, 181, n. 2).

So, the Thomistic argument against sodomy is "easily disposed of," because it is not clear that non-procreative sex is necessarily wrong or really contrary to procreation.  As an alternative to this argument, George follows those like Germain Grisez and John Finnis in arguing that sodomy is wrong because it violates marriage as a "basic good" of human life.

Following Grisez's lead, Finnis in 1980 (in Natural Law and Natural Rights) proposed a list of seven "basic goods" or "basic values" that could be self-evidently known by intuition as the basic aspects of human well-being:  life, knowledge, play, aesthetic experience, sociability (friendship), practical reasonableness, and religion (Finnis 1980, 86-90).

This list resembles what Aquinas identifies as the "natural inclinations" of human nature or what I identify as the 20 "natural desires."  But unlike Aquinas and myself, Finnis is a Kantian rationalist who wants these basic goods to be known by pure reason alone without any grounding in the natural inclinations or desires of human nature.  For that reason, Finnis does not even like the idea of "natural law": he speaks of "the rather unhappy term 'natural law,'" because he wants a natural law without nature (1980, 374).  He wants to move from Thomistic naturalism to Kantian rationalism.  (I have criticized the Kantianism of the new natural law here.)

Notice that the list of seven basic goods does not include procreative sex or marriage.  Finnis indicated that sexual intercourse could fall under more than one of these goods: "as a human action, pursuit and realization of value, sexual intercourse may be play, and/or expression of love or friendship, and/or an effort to procreate" (1980, 86).  This suggests that non-procreative sex could satisfy one or more of the basic human goods.  But, then, years later, after the first edition of Natural Law and Natural Rights, Finnis added "marriage" to his list of "basic goods," so that he could criticize homosexuality as a violation of this basic good (Finnis 1996; 2011, 446-48).

According to the new natural lawyers, marriage as a basic good is a comprehensive "two-in-one-flesh" union of a male and female, for whom their coital penis-in-vagina sex renders them literally a single organic reproductive whole.  Consequently, the sexual union of a same-sex couple cannot ever be a "real marriage," because they can never experience that penis-in-vagina coital union for reproduction.

There are some obvious objections to this reasoning, which I have brought up in some previous posts hereherehere, and here.

The most common objection is that if the new natural lawyers were right, sterile heterosexual couples could not have a "real marriage," because they cannot reproduce.  The reply to this objection is that a heterosexual married couple do have a "real marriage," even if they are sterile, because their sexual acts can still be "of the reproductive type."  This is said to be analogous to a baseball team that never wins a game: this is still a baseball team because it is oriented to the goal of winning, even if it always loses.

The fallacy in this analogy, however, is that it does not distinguish between a goal that does not occur, although people are intentionally seeking it, and a goal that cannot occur, so that no one aware of its impossibility can intentionally seek it.  A losing baseball team can continue trying to win, as long as winning is a possibility.  But if the team knows that winning is impossible, they cannot honestly strive for this.  Similarly, an infertile heterosexual couple who knows that they are infertile cannot honestly try to procreate; and so if they engage in sexual acts, this must be for some end other than reproduction.

Moreover, why should we say that coital union--penis-in-vagina--is the only human good that human beings can achieve through sex?  Why can't both heterosexual and homosexual couples express their love for one another and build their conjugal bond through mutual pleasure-giving without coital union?

Can't we also assume that most of those people who might adopt the new natural law argument for "real marriage" cannot consistently adhere to it?  They will appeal to the argument for the sake of condemning same-sex coupling.  But they won't accept the argument's claim that heterosexual couples who engage in contraception, masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, and interfemoral sex are engaging in sodomy.  Isn't that because they recognize that sexual activity serves human goods other than reproduction through coitus?

If the arguments for the Catholic Church's condemnation of sodomy are so weak that even most Catholics do not believe them, we must wonder whether there is some hidden motivation for the Church's position.  Recently, Pope Francis hinted at the answer: "Behind rigidity there is always something hidden, in many cases a double life."  I will pursue this thought in the next post.


Corvino, John. 2013. What's Wrong with Homosexuality? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finnis, John. 1980. Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finnis, John. 1996. "Is Natural Law Theory Compatible with Limited Government?" In Robert George, ed., Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality, 1-26. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Finnis, John. 2011. Natural Law and Natural Rights. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

George, Robert P. 1999. In Defense of Natural Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Justin Amash for President: A Tea Party Libertarian Speaks for the Constitution and Congressional Deliberation

                               Justin Amash Speaks at His Town Hall in Grand Rapids, May 28th

For constitutional conservatives in the United States, the only good candidate for President in 2020 is Justin Amash.  The most likely possibility would be running as the Libertarian Party candidate, which would follow from Amash's complaint that the two-party system has failed, and that there needs to be a new party system.

That was clear to me after I attended his town hall gathering last night in Grand Rapids.  As many as a thousand people turned out.  Much of the energy at this town hall meeting was stirred by Amash's recent public statements that from his reading of the Mueller Report it was clear that Donald Trump had committed impeachable offenses. This has drawn national attention to Amash as the first Republican in Congress calling for Trump's impeachment.  (An article in the Detroit News on this town hall includes a few quotations from me.)

I live in the 3rd Congressional District of Michigan, which has been represented by Amash since 2010, when he was elected as a Tea Party candidate arguing for the constitutional principles of limited government, Congressional deliberation, and fiscal responsibility.  Shortly after his election to the House, he founded the House Liberty Caucus as a organization for House members who remain committed to the Tea Party principles of constitutional government and liberty.

Today, most Republican leaders have no interest in constitutional limited government, because they want Trump to rule without any serious limits from the Congress; and so, for example, they don't want to take seriously the impeachment power of the Congress as one of the constraints on presidential abuse of power designed by the Founders.

Most Republican leaders have no interest in Congressional deliberation, because they agree with the Democratic leaders that the process of lawmaking in the Congress should be controlled by the party leaders to enforce the strict party line without allowing congressmen to exercise their individual judgment in a deliberative process.

And most Republican leaders have no interest in fiscal responsibility, because they are happy to increase federal spending through endlessly increasing federal debt, with the thought that the inevitable debt crisis is too far off to matter to them.

Amash stressed all three of these points in the town hall meeting.  In his opening statement and in his responses to questions, he carefully led his audience through the principles of American constitutionalism, the process of lawmaking in the House of Representatives, and the precepts of classical liberal political thought.  I have never seen a politician speak to a popular audience like this, as if he were teaching a college class in political science.  When I taught political science at Northern Illinois University, I would have been happy to engage my students the way Amash engaged this audience.

And I have to say these Amash supporters are really, really nerdy!  I saw people in the audience with copies of the Mueller Report in their laps, and they were all talking about their reading of the whole 448 pages of the report.  At least it's good to know that I belong to the great community of Nerds in America.


Amash's opening statement was a defense of his conclusion that Mueller's report proves that Trump is impeachable.  Amash then elaborated his reasoning on impeachment in some of his responses to questions.

As indicated by my post on the Mueller Report and impeachment earlier this month, I mostly agree with Amash, but I might disagree with Amash on two points about which he was silent.

As I have said, the American Founders made the President impeachable by Congress as one of the ways to prevent the President from becoming an elected monarch.  The impeachment power of the British Parliament did not extend to the King, who could not be impeached or tried for crimes.  For the first time in history, the Americans after 1776 made the chief executives of their governments--the state governors and the U.S. President--subject to impeachment by the legislatures.  In The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton emphasized that this impeachment of the president was one crucial factor in insuring that the president could not become an elected king.  (One member of the audience at the town hall quoted from Hamilton on this.)

Amash cited this evidence from the American Founders as showing the importance of impeachment by Congress as one way the Congress keeps the president from becoming a monarch.  And, so, he argued, the Congress has a constitutional duty to impeach the president when he has abused his powers.

This started a long discussion with audience members about whether there was sufficient evidence to impeach Trump.  The Trump supporters insisted vehemently that the Mueller Report had not shown that Trump had committed any indictable crimes such as obstruction of justice.  Amash responded by quoting from the Constitution and from the American Founders to support the idea that impeachment is not a judicial judgment of crime but a political judgment of abuse of power.  He indicated, correctly, that some of the Founders thought that the president could be rightly impeached for "maladministration," although Amash suggested that this might go too far for him.

Amash then pointed to his Twitter statements summarizing the factual indictment of the President in the Mueller Report showing that Trump had indeed obstructed justice and thus abused his powers, although there was not sufficient evidence (beyond a reasonable doubt) for indicting Trump for a crime.

Amash worried that a failure to impeach Trump where the evidence for abuse of power is so clear would send the message that Congress will never impeach a President, which would deny the expectation of the Founders that impeachment of the President should be a frequent check on presidential power.  In fact, only two presidents have been impeached by the House (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), and neither was convicted by the Senate.

Although I agree with Amash on all of these points, I disagree with his silence about two reasons why the Congress has failed to exercise its constitutional power for impeachment.  The first reason is that Congress has chosen to abdicate its power of impeachment investigation by turning this over to "special prosecutors" appointed by the Department of Justice.  The Constitution says nothing about this, and it violates the constitutional understanding that impeachment is a congressional power that should not be delegated to the Executive Branch.  That the Congress has not had full control over the Mueller investigation or over the release of the Mueller Report is a consequence of the Congress's mistake in allowing the Department of Justice to take control of this investigation, which has put it under the control of the President.  Amash has not recognized this problem.

In Robert Mueller's public statement this morning at the Department of Justice, there is one crucial sentence that bears on this point: "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing."  Of course, the constitutional process to which he is referring is impeachment by Congress.  A special prosecutor in the Department of Justice cannot conduct an impeachment investigation, Mueller is suggesting, because that belongs to the Congress; and because an impeachment investigation of presidential wrongdoing does not belong to the criminal justice system.  So Mueller is saying is that the Mueller Report cannot decide whether Trump should be impeached, which is a decision constitutionally given to the Congress, but the Report can provide the Congress the factual evidence supporting the conclusion that Trump has abused his powers in a way that is impeachable by Congress, regardless of whether the President has committed an indictable crime.  That's exactly what Amash has said.

The second reason for the failure of Congress to exercise its impeachment power is a flaw in the Constitution itself--the requirement of a supermajority (2/3) in the Senate for an impeachment conviction.  As I indicated in my earlier post, this lowers the minimum winning coalition for the president to 34 Senators obstructing impeachment.  Today, there are 41 Republican Senators; and so conviction of Trump would require that all of the Democratic Senators and at least 8 of the Republican Senators would have to vote for impeachment.  So even if Trump is impeachable by the House, it is highly unlikely that he will be convicted by the Senate, particularly considering the highly partisan politics on Capital Hill that Amash bemoans.  This has rendered the impeachment power largely ineffective in checking the propensity of the president to become an elected monarch.  This mistake of the Constitutional Framers arose from the fear of some of them that a simple majority requirement for impeachment might promote "legislative tyranny."  Many of them did not foresee that the real problem in American government would be "executive tyranny" unconstrained by the Congress, which was created by the American Progressives who pushed for "presidential leadership" at the top of the federal government.


The second major theme of Amash's comments at the town hall was the importance of understanding how both Republican leaders (like Paul Ryan) and Democratic leaders (like Nancy Pelosi) have corrupted the process of lawmaking in the House to enforce a rigid party-line vote as dictated by the party leaders that suppresses congressional deliberation.  Remarkably, Amash observed, the public never hears about this as the explanation for mindless partisanship in the Congress, the lack of open deliberation in Congress, and the expansion of presidential power.

At the beginning of every new two-year House session, Amash explained, the House member enact the "Rules of the House," the basis legislative procedures that have developed over 200 years since the Constitutional founding.  But then, beginning when Paul Ryan was Speaker of the House, the Speaker has started every week of the session by proposing a suspension of the rules, which allows bills to be passed with limited debate and without allowing any floor amendments.  The House leadership forces party members to vote for this suspension of the rules by threatening them with punishment if they don't: they won't get good committee assignments, and they won't receive party support for re-election.

With limited debate on each bill (an average of 13 minutes) and with no floor amendments allowed, there is no deliberation among the members of the House; and instead the bills pass as they were written by the House leadership.  In the 114th Congress (2015-2016), 83% of the House bills were considered under suspension.

As a result of this, congressmen are not permitted to think for themselves, because everything is dictated to them by the House leadership.  The congressmen are forced into a mindless partisan divide--Republicans versus Democrats--because they are not allowed to disagree with their party leaders, and perhaps work with people in the other party.  This also means that the President does not have to worry about working with individual congressmen, because he needs only to work with the party leaders.

One indication of this, Amash noted, is that in the House, most members vote with their party about 95% to 99% of the time.  Amash votes about 70% of the time with the Republicans, and he is punished by the party leaders for not being a good party member!

Amash asked the audience to imagine how different politics would be if Congress were a deliberative body where each member could think for himself or herself without having to sacrifice one's principles in blindly following the party leadership.  Instead of this, Amash observed, what one sees in the Congress is that members give up thinking and give up all of their principles to please their party leaders, and as a result they become soulless zombies

Amash is one of the few members of Congress who breaks away from this.  He is famous as being perhaps the only member of Congress who actually reads every piece of legislation before he votes on it, and then explains his vote on every bill on his Facebook page.


Amash's third point was how the Republicans--and particularly, the Tea Party candidates--have betrayed their promise of fiscal responsibility.  A few months ago, the national debt went over $22 trillion dollars for the first time in American history; and the yearly federal budget deficit is getting close to $1 trillion dollars, with no end in sight.  There are reports that when people in the White House tried to get Trump interested in the need to reduce the national debt to avoid a debt crisis, he responded by saying something like, Why should I care if there's debt crisis after I'm gone?

Well, Amash cares, and he emphasized at the town hall that he has asked for more spending cuts than anyone else in Congress.  We can be sure that if he runs for President, he will be the only candidate willing to talk about the debt crisis.

I don't see any other potential candidate for the presidency willing to speak, in such an engaging and intelligent way, about constitutional government, the need for legislative deliberation, and fiscal austerity in order to have a government that secures personal and economic liberty.

My wife tells me I shouldn't overlook his biggest advantage--he's so young and good looking.

I should also add one qualification to my earlier suggestion that Amash could run as the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party.  Amash has publicly declared that he believes that life begins at conception, and therefore abortion denies the right to life and is murder.  This contradicts the position of the Libertarian Party that abortion is a free choice of "individual conscience."  If he were to  run as the Libertarian Party candidate for President, he would have to disagree with this position.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Seeing Abraham Lincoln in Donald Trump's Soul--The Strange Fantasy of the Claremont Institute

In the spring 2019 issue of The Claremont Review of Books, the cover essay is by Thomas Klingenstein--"Patriotism vs. Multiculturalism."  Speaking as the chairman of the Claremont Institute's Board of Directors, he declares what must be the official Claremont Institute position that Abraham Lincoln has been reincarnated in the soul of Donald Trump:
"Trump may not be able to express as well as one might like what makes America great but in his soul he knows what not so long ago our elite knew, that we are the 'almost chosen' people (in Abraham Lincoln's quaint, humble phrase) dedicated to the proposition that 'all men are created equal,' here to show the rest of the world that man can govern himself."
There are three claims here.  First, that Trump has a soul.  Second, that he is unable to clearly express what he knows in his soul.  Finally, that those who know the political thought of Abraham Lincoln can see Lincoln's thought in Trump's soul--particularly, Lincoln's appeal to the Declaration of Independence as affirming the principle of the equal liberty of all human beings as the moral standard for the American regime.  Against the evils of multiculturalism, Trump knows in his Lincolnian soul that America needs "to unite around a single, national political culture based on natural rights, individual freedom, and republican government."

Against these claims, Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of Trump's book The Art of the Deal, has said that Trump has "no soul" and "no conscience," that "he's willing to say any thing, to lie, deceive, distort and not feel the slightest bit of guilt about it," because he is a "sociopath."  I have taken Schwartz's position in arguing that Trump shows the chimpanzee personality of a grandiose narcissistic psychopath who has neither moral nor intellectual virtues (here, and here).

So what evidence does Klingenstein have for the Lincolnian depths of Trump's soul that people like Schwartz and I have ignored?  It's hard to say, because Klingenstein admits that Trump "does not formulate" the Lincolnian ideas that Klingenstein attributes to him, that Trump shows "inability to develop coherent arguments," and that he is not "someone who can articulate the nature of the war we are in, who speaks the language of justice, and who can remind us that our goal is the good."

In fact, as far as I know, Trump has never in his entire life ever accurately quoted Lincoln or the Declaration of Independence.  On February 12, 2017, Trump did wish a happy birthday to Lincoln on Instagram, and then he quoted his favorite remark from Lincoln: "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count.  It's the life in your years."  The only problem here is that Lincoln never said this.  Trump felt no guilt in falsely attributing this to Lincoln.

Trump's Lincolnian soul is expressed not in his speech, Klingenstein argues, but in the policies he recommends--and particularly in his attempts to restrict immigration.  So, for example, Trump was embracing a Lincolnian idea when he said that America should not allow immigration from "shitholes" like Haiti, because he was expressing "the view that it is wrong to invite into our society people who cannot, or will not, live responsibly in the way Americans believe is the right way to live."

Trump's scorn for Haitians was an insult to people like Mia Love, the first Haitian American elected as a representative in Congress.  She was also the first black female Republican elected to Congress.  She is the daughter of Haitian immigrants who fled violence in Haiti.  She is a pro-life conservative Republican.  Is Klingenstein accurate in saying that she "cannot, or will not, live responsibly in the way Americans believe is the right way to live"?  Would Lincoln have said this?  Or would he have found it despicable?

Klingenstein is silent about what Lincoln said about the Know-Nothing Party, which promoted the anti-immigration xenophobia that Trump is reviving today.  In a letter to Joshua Speed in August 24, 1855, Lincoln wrote:
"I am not a Know-Nothing.  That is certain.  How could I be?  How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people?  Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid.  As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.'  We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.'  When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.'  When it comes to this, I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty--to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."
As is pointed out in David Azerrad's response to Klingenstein's essay in CRB, Trump's Know-Nothing anti-immigration policies are rooted not in Lincoln's thought but in American Progressivism, because the American Progressives "believed in the superiority of the Teutonic races and their rightful title to rule not just America, but the world," and thus the Progressives would have agreed with Trump's scorn for the "shithole" countries.

The American Progressives were responsible for the Immigration Act of 1924 (the Johnson-Reed Act), which imposed strict quotas on immigration from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.  The Immigration Law of 1965 overturned these quotas to allow for freer immigration.  Trump's anti-immigration policy is an attempt to restore the 1924 policy of the American Progressives, and thus to overturn the Lockean liberal policy for general naturalization and open borders.  (I have written a post on John Locke's general immigration policy.)

This indicates that the Claremont Institute has now decided to drop its opposition to American Progressivism so that it can support Trump.  This suggests that if Trump has a soul, it's not Lincolnian but Progressive.

The Evolutionary Psychology of the Harm Principle: Are Lieberman and Patrick Libertarians?

I have long been puzzled as to why evolutionary psychologists--like Jon Haidt, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby--do not affirm explicitly the libertarianism that is implied in what they say about the evolved human nature of morality and politics.  I have written about that hereherehere, and here.

I continue to be puzzled by that same question in trying to interpret Debra Lieberman and Carlton Patrick's Objection: Disgust, Morality, and the Law.  In arguing for reducing or even eliminating the influence of moral disgust in the law, they repeatedly appeal to the principle of no harm--that people should not be legally punished for conduct that affects only themselves and does not harm others (4-5, 12-13, 117, 123, 125-27, 130-31, 139, 141, 147-48, 163, 187, 203, 205).  But except for one casual reference, they do not identify this as the famous principle of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (see 203, 235, n. 23).

In On Liberty, Mill contends that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."  This has been called not only the "harm principle" but also the "nonaggression axiom"--the idea that a legal order is a mutual nonaggression pact in which all agree not to injure others by force or fraud, but with the understanding that all have the right to defend themselves against the aggression of others.  This idea has an ancient history beginning with the ancient Greek philosophers Lycophron and Epicurus.  In modern liberal thought, it was affirmed by John Locke that in the state of nature "being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions," and that all have the "executive power of the law of nature" to punish those who initiate aggression against others.  This same principle has been reaffirmed by a long line of classical liberals, such as Herbert Spencer: "Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man."

In the entry on "John Stuart Mill" in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, Aeon Skoble writes: "The general principle that conduct that does not harm others should not be legally proscribed virtually defines libertarianism."  If that is so, then Lieberman and Patrick are libertarians in their promotion of that principle.  It's also notable that The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism has an entry on "Evolutionary Psychology" written by Cosmides and Tooby, which includes a criticism of Marxist communist regimes for denying the reality of evolved human nature by assuming "that human desires, emotions, and motivations are infinitely plastic social constructions that can be easily molded into any form."

In this video, being interviewed by Michael Shermer, Lieberman says that her evolutionary psychology of disgust provides a "platform for promoting freedom," for "just freedom in general" (go to 1:22:40), because it teaches us how "free trade" overcomes Us/Theming, so that we allow people to live as they please in their various groups as long as they do not harm others.  This is her clearest statement of her libertarianism.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Evolutionary Moral Psychology Combines Reason and Emotion: Correcting Lieberman and Patrick on Disgust

The main argument of Lieberman and Patrick in Objection is a syllogism:  since evolutionary psychology shows that moral emotions like disgust are irrational in ways that are dangerous to society, and since the law should be based on rational principles rather than irrational emotions, disgust (and other moral emotions) should be excluded from the law.

That syllogism is false, because the premise that moral emotions like disgust are utterly irrational is false.  Research in evolutionary moral psychology shows that moral judgment always combines reason and emotion in a complex interaction.  Consequently, moral judgment cannot be properly explained by either a purely emotivist theory or a purely rationalist theory.  In explaining moral judgment in this way as the conjunction of reason and emotion, evolutionary moral psychology confirms the tradition of naturalist moral philosophy that stretches from Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas to David Hume and Adam Smith and then to Charles Darwin and Edward Westermarck.  (Here I am drawing some passages from some previous posts hereherehere, and here,)

Lieberman and Patrick begin their book with Jonathan Haidt's famous scenario about Julie and Mark deciding to engage in incest, which Haidt calls "a harmless taboo" story:
"Julie and Mark, who are sister and brother, are traveling together in France.  They are both on summer vacation from college.  One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach.  They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love.  At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them.  Julie is already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe.  They both enjoy it, but they decide not to do it again.  They keep that night as a special secret between them, which makes them feel even closer to each other.  So what do you think about this?  Was it wrong for them to have sex?" (Haidt 2012, 38)
Originally, Haidt and his collaborators presented this story to 30 undergraduate students at the University of Virginia.  24 of the students said that Julie and Mark were wrong to do this.  They were then asked why was this wrong.  They struggled to give a reason, and when they did, the interviewer would challenge what they said.  Haidt reports:

"Most people who hear the above story immediately say that it was wrong for the siblings to make love, and they then begin searching for reasons.  They point out the dangers of inbreeding, only to remember that Julie and Mark used two forms of birth control.  They argue that Julie and Mark will be hurt, perhaps emotionally, even though the story makes it clear that no harm befell them.  Eventually, many people say something like, 'I don't know, I can't explain it, I just know it's wrong'" (Haidt 2001, 814).
Notice what Haidt did here.  First, he implicitly assumed that the best rational principle of moral judgment is "no harm."  Then, he carefully wrote the scenario about Julie and Mark to exclude the possibility of harm from their incest--either the harm of inbreeding for their offspring or the emotional harm to their relationship as siblings.  He could then tell the students that this harmless conduct could not be morally condemned and that condemning this conduct as disgusting is irrational because disgust is not a rational principle of moral judgment. 

Some of Haidt's critics have challenged him on all these points (Jacobson 2012; May 2018; Royzman et al. 2015).  Weren't the students who condemned Julie and Mark correct in thinking that sibling incest is likely to be harmful?  Even if they could avoid pregnancy and the harm of inbreeding, isn't it implausible that they could avoid emotional harm to themselves.  In his scenario, Haidt says that Julie and Mark thought making love would be "interesting and fun," and that they could keep it as a "special secret between them" that would make them "feel even closer to each other."  But isn't that unrealistic?  And isn't it likely that most of the students found Haidt's scenario unbelievable?

In fact, when Royzman and his colleagues conducted their own experiment in asking students to respond to Haidt's story of Julie and Mark, the students were allowed to express their disbelief in the claim that Julie and Mark could engage in incest without harm.  Most of the students could not believe that sex between siblings could occur without some emotional harm to the siblings.  In Haidt's experiment, he refused to accept this by forcing the students to agree with the stipulated claim in his scenario that Julie and Mark were not emotionally harmed by their incest.

Haidt's students show that the moral condemnation of incest will be both emotional and rational: there will be an emotional expression of disgust with incest that depends on a rational judgment of what constitutes incest.  Consider, for example, how Haidt's students might have responded to a scenario in which Julie and Mark were cousins who fell in love.  Many of the students might have felt no disgust if they thought that sex between cousins need not be considered incest.  Or if they were told that Julie and Mark were stepsiblings who had been reared in different families, this also might have led some of them to conclude that this was not incest.  Or what if they were told that Mark's wife had died, and Julie was his sister-in-law?  Here our moral emotion of disgust depends on our cognitive judgment of what counts as incest.

This illustrates how we reason with our emotions: we argue ourselves into and out of our moral emotions by judging whether those emotions are a justified response to the circumstances.  Not many years ago, most people might have felt a disgust with interracial marriage and homosexual marriage comparable to their disgust with incest.  But now this reaction has been weakened by the judgment that there is no harm in such marriages.  Legislators and judges must debate these questions in deciding what kinds of marriage are permitted.

And so, for example, as I have indicated in my recent posts on Justice Kennedy's opinion in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, much of the debate in this case turned on whether same-sex marriage would be harmful for children or harmful in weakening the institution of heterosexual marriage.  This required a rational judgment of the empirical evidence as to whether same-sex marriage was likely or not to be harmful.  The acceptance of Kennedy's opinion depends on whether one agrees with him that the evidence suggests that same-sex marriage is not harmful.

Remarkably, when Lieberman and Patrick briefly discuss the Supreme Court cases on homosexuality, they are almost completely silent about this debate over the evidence as to whether homosexuality is harmful or not.  They thus convey the impression that the disgust with homosexuality has no rational basis at all (185-88).  Oddly, it is only in a endnote that they admit that there might be a rational policy debate here: "To be fair, a few dissenting justices briefly discuss the interest of states in encouraging natural procreation within the unit that provides the best atmosphere for raising children (i.e., traditional marriage).  And regardless of whether this is a strong policy argument, it is, at least, a policy argument" (233, n. 41).  (I am wondering whether they were forced to add this endnote to satisfy one of the anonymous referees of their book manuscript for Oxford University Press.) 

In another endnote, they admit that Kurt Gray and other researchers "might be correct" in seeing evidence that judgments of harm are always involved in moral emotions, because when people see something as wrong, they almost certainly see it as harmful (224, n. 31).  (Was this endnote added to satisfy another referee?)  Amazingly, Lieberman and Patrick don't recognize that this contradicts their main argument--that disgust is an utterly irrational emotion that does not involve any rational judgment that disgusting conduct might be harmful.  (See Gray et al. 2014, 2015; Schein et al. 2016.)

In trying to prove the irrationality of disgust and other moral emotions, Lieberman and Patrick often cite the research of Haidt and others that apparently shows that "incidental" disgust--disgust that has nothing directly to do with the object of moral evaluation--influences moral judgment.  So, for example, if you create a bad smell in a room--by using fart spray--and then ask people in the room to evaluate homosexuality, they will rate it as more morally wrong than subjects in a room without the foul odor.  But then in a parenthetical sentence, Lieberman and Patrick remark: "We should note that recent analyses have questioned, with good reason, the robustness of the results from those incidental-disgust studies, but the original researchers maintain that their conclusions as to the effects were valid" (136; 224, n. 32).  If you read the articles they cite, you will see that Landy and Goodwin (2015) have shown that the research claiming that incidental disgust strongly influences moral judgment has not been replicated, and that there has been a strong publication bias, in that many of the experiments showing no influence of incidental disgust on moral judgment have not been published.

In response to research like this that contradicts his original argument that moral emotions like disgust have no rational basis, Haidt has begun to change his mind, and he has begun to recognize that moral judgment really does require a complex interaction of reason and emotion.  In The Righteous Mind, he speaks of the "useless dichotomy between cognition and emotion," and he says that "emotions are not dumb," because "emotions are a kind of information processing," and therefore emotion and reasoning are two forms of cognition (Haidt 2012, 44-48).

When we respond to some situation with a moral emotion like disgust, we must cognitively interpret that situation, which requires some kind of reasoning, even if the reasoning is quick, unconscious, and implicit rather than consciously deliberate.  So when Haidt's students read his scenario about Julie and Mark, the students had to engage in some reasoning to decide whether Haidt's claim that their incestuous liaison could be harmless was realistic or not.  Most of them decided that this was not realistic, and as a consequence of this rational judgment of likely harm, their interpretation of the situation produced an intuitive emotion of moral disgust.

Consequently, we can be persuaded--by ourselves or by others--to change our moral emotions when we change our judgments about the social world around us.  This has happened in the debate over homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  For a long time, the great majority of people have felt disgust towards homosexuals because they thought homosexuality was harmful.  If you have any doubt about the opposition to homosexuality being based on the perception that it is harmful, just read Anita Bryant's The Anita Bryant Story: The Survival of Our Nation's Families and the Threat of Militant Homosexuality (1977).  The subtitle tells it all.  Bryant was a popular American singer and advertising voice for Florida orange juice.  In 1977, she began a campaign against a gay rights ordinance in Miami, which soon spread around the country.  Although she had some victories, she provoked a national backlash against her that destroyed her career, because her exaggerated fear of "the threat of militant homosexuality" was not persuasive with many people.  Now, more and more people are deciding that homosexuality is not harmful after all, and consequently they no longer find it disgusting enough to legally suppress it.

Not seeing this, Lieberman and Patrick cannot explain why the law in many societies has recently become more tolerant of the homosexual life, because they cannot recognize how the moral emotion of disgust depends upon rational judgments about the reality of homosexuality in our social world.


Bryant, Anita. 1977. The Anita Bryant Story: The Survival of Our Nation's Families and the Threat of Militant Homosexuality. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company.

Gray, Kurt, Chelsea Schein, and Adrian Ward. 2014. "The Myth of Harmless Wrongs in Moral Cognition: Automatic Dyadic Completion From Sin to Suffering." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143: 1600-1615.

Gray, Kurt, and Chelsea Schein. 2015. "The Myth of the Harmless Wrong." The New York Times, January 30.

Haidt, Jonathan. 2001. "The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment." Psychological Review 108: 814-34.

Haidt, Jonathan. 2012. The Righteous Mind; Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon.

Jacobson, Daniel. 2012. "Moral Dumbfoundng and Moral Stupefaction." In Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, ed. Mark Timmons, 289-315.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

May, Joshua. 2018. Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Royzman, Edward B., Kwanwoo Kim, and Robert F. Leeman. 2015. "The Curious Tale of Julie and Mark: Unraveling the Moral Dumbfounding Effect." Judgment and Decision Making 10: 296-313.

Schein, Chelsea, Ryan S. Ritter, and Kurt Gray. 2016. "Harm Mediates the Disgust-Immorality Link." Emotion 16: 862-76.