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8/10/2018 5:48 pm  #1


What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

This has been on my mind recently. So Feser claims that the use of one's sexual faculty in a way which acts contrary to its end (i.e. climaxing into a condom, kneelex, etc.) is morally impermissible. In such instances the sexual faculty is being used in such a way that it prevents it from fulfilling its natural end of procreation. That is, the semen (in the case of the male) is ejaculated but is prevented from reaching its complimentary receptacle and thus the natural end of procreation is thwarted.

However, what about instances of physical sexual pleasure that don't result in premature climax or climax outside of the vagina? For instance, crossing one's legs a certain way because it feels good, direct stimulation of a faculty without ejaculation, or even (though perhaps rare) sexual intercourse and stopping deliberately before climaxing. In these cases is one acting contrary to the natural end of the sexual faculty? If semen has not been ejaculated in aat all, if there was no redirected climax, say, in a condom or tissue, then would the non-climactic stimulation just be seen as using a faculty in a way "other" than its natural end rather than contrary to its natural end?

One could think of someone eating food and then deliberately spitting it out before swallowing and digesting it. The person enjoys the stimulation of the taste buds but foregoes the satisfaction of digestion. Would we consider this acting contrary to the overall digestive system or would we say the person who spits out the food  merely never follows through with the act entirely, and therefore there is no thwarting or acting contrary to the end of digestion?

Last edited by RomanJoe (8/10/2018 5:49 pm)

 

8/10/2018 7:56 pm  #2


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

I do not find a "sexual faculty" in Aristotle. There is a reproductive faculty, which is a function of nutritive soul. Pleasure is a byproduct of many bodily functions/actions. But one organ can serve more than one faculty, and some uses of organs don't carry out any obvious faculty. I would suggest that as the tongue can serve more than one function, so can the human erotic organs, and the exercise of them, whether for a good or bad end, is governed by "prohairesis," informed moral judgment. As it would be strange to say that the digestive faculty is perverted if your tongue is used for French kissing with your spouse--you are not employing the tongue for digestion-- so it would be strange to say that the *reproductive faculty* is perverted if we use our erogenous organs for an end other than reproduction. It first has to be established that those organs only legitimately are employed for reproduction. But such verges on subordinating rational soul, in whose purview come human relationships, to nutritive soul.

There are many passages in Xenophon's Memorabilia where Socrates uncouples reproductive ends of erotics from other ends. Cf. e.g. 1.4.12 (the gods gave the pleasures of sexual relations, τὰς τῶν ἀφροδισίων ἡδονὰς, to other animals only at prescribed times of year, but to us they furnish them continuously up to old age. Soc says nothing about the pleasures of sex aiming at procreation; rather, the gods give us a gift of pleasure beyond what they give to other animals. At 2.1.5 Socrates allows going to prostitute as better than adultery. In 2.2.4 Soc tells his own son of distinction betw picking a woman to be mother of your children and other roads of satisfying sexual pleasures w/o procreation, incl. whorehouses (οἰκήματα). Soc allows some ἀφροδίσια as long as they are not painful or unwelcome to the other male person, M. 2.6.22, 31. Moralists may find much lacking here, but at least, it shows that Greek writers of philosophical leanings like Xenophon did not think that every sex act must have an intentionality toward reproduction. Aristotle uses male-male relations, even in the famous simile of lover's desire of beloved male for desire of first sphere of heaven for Unmoved Mover.
 

 

8/10/2018 8:14 pm  #3


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

I am not sure what Aristotle or Xenophon have directly to do with the OP. The argument may draw on Aristotelian ideas, but the perverted faculty argument is a Thomist argument, and here Joe is specifically talking about Ed's version.

Ed doesn't claim a faculty has to have only one legitimate use, and he distinguishes perversion and simply using a faculty in a way other than its alloted end (which doesn't pervert it). So we'd need to start with Ed's specific claims, as Joe does, to answer his questions.

 

8/10/2018 8:31 pm  #4


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

We all know the Thomistic background of Ed's position. What I took to be Roman Joe's question was, on what basis is the Thomistic background justified? It is not clear to me that it is justified on compelling Aristotelian premises. So it needs to be shown on what other premises that Thomistic background is justified.

If Thomas is relying on revelation, that's one thing. If premises derived from a doctrine of soul and its operations via body are necessary for the perverted faculty argument to go through, then that's another thing.

 

8/10/2018 9:03 pm  #5


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

Have you read Ed's article? Faculty here is not being used in the same sense as the Aristotelian nutritive soul, etc. He's, instead, referring simply to organs and processes of the body (or faculties of the mind). Joe is surely questioning how we distinguish perverting these (turning them away from their natural ends) from using them in a way other than their natural ends. I don't see anything here that requires, or is particularly helped, by going back to Aristotle. It is a matter of how Thomists (Ed in particular) see this distinguish within their metaphysical and ethical framework. This is a common query, and goes to the heart of the argument.

 

8/10/2018 9:47 pm  #6


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

RomanJoe wrote:

However, what about instances of physical sexual pleasure that don't result in premature climax or climax outside of the vagina? For instance, crossing one's legs a certain way because it feels good, direct stimulation of a faculty without ejaculation, or even (though perhaps rare) sexual intercourse and stopping deliberately before climaxing. In these cases is one acting contrary to the natural end of the sexual faculty? If semen has not been ejaculated in aat all, if there was no redirected climax, say, in a condom or tissue, then would the non-climactic stimulation just be seen as using a faculty in a way "other" than its natural end rather than contrary to its natural end?

The trouble I have always thought the argument faced was spelling out the relevant sense of "use contrary to end" in a manner neither too inclusive nor too exclusive. I think there are also more significant problems of the character of Thomistic ethics generally--and whether "good is to be done and evil avoided" has the sense necessary to be both a) defended in the manner Feser defends it and b) applied in the manner Feser applies it.

But the sense of use at issue is I think clearly supposed to be one according to which the reproductive faculty is used even when one does not reach climax. Intuitively, the sexual organs are still being used in such a case, for pleasure or whatever else. I don't have the article on hand at the moment and haven't read it in a while, so I can't say whether it is phrased in a way that anticipates this possibility, but I suspect that it is, and even if not, it should be.

I don't think that is the tough part of the argument. The argument isn't that sperm is wasted when it isn't used for procreation, so that the wrong enters principally at the stage of non-marital ejaculation. However one winds up claiming that ejaculating into a condom is using the reproductive faculty contrary to its natural end, it should also be the case that using the reproductive faculty for pleasure (or whatever) with the intention of withdrawing is also using the reproductive faculty contrary to its natural end.

Of course if the fire alarm goes off while you're having sex, then you haven't used the reproductive faculty for pleasure with the intention of withdrawing; you were all the while engaged in an ordinary marital act, which you stopped all at once when the fire alarm went off. So not all actions which meet the descriptions "sexual intercourse halted before climax" count as non-marital. And yeah, you could masturbate by crossing your legs, but even if you cross your legs every once in a while and feel a twinge of sexual pleasure you are not necessarily masturbating; you may, for instance, not be aiming at the pleasure at all.

 

8/11/2018 8:09 am  #7


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

Jeremy Taylor wrote:

Have you read Ed's article? Faculty here is not being used in the same sense as the Aristotelian nutritive soul, etc.

Yes. 

Soul is not a faculty in Aristotle or in Aquinas, so "faculty" isn't ever used in the same sense as "soul." The words that we can translate as "faculty" in Aquinas are potentia and virtus and, of course, facultas - as in potentia generativa or virtus generativa. I think Greg is more accurate in his above to speak about "reproductive faculty." I don't see a term corresponding to "sexual faculty" in Aquinas.

Every level of soul in both Aristotle and Aquinas has faculties: vegetative soul has nutritive and reproductive faculties, animal soul has (in most animals) locomotive faculties as well as faculties of perception, and rational soul in humans has what Aquinas often refers to as "facultas voluntatis et rationis," faculty of will(ing) and reason(ing).

I think it's important to avoid talking about "sexual faculty" because I don't see it in Aquinas, let alone Aristotle, and because as a concept it's ill defined. Ed himself says that a faculty is defined by a function. But the function of having sex isn't having sex. That's why I suggest it introduces confusion to talk about a "sexual faculty."

If I'm right that it's more precise to refer to a "reproductive faculty," then Joe's question kicks in: are there ways of experiencing pleasure from what I'll call our erogenous zones, all the way up through orgasm, that are consequences of using the relevant organs to serve operations of other faculties - e.g. faculties that pertain to rational soul, like those that "make one out of two," as Freud described "eros." I would think the faculty of willing the good has some species that would comprise human lovemaking.

We can all think of ways of getting erotic pleasure that don't activate faculties of rational soul in any clear way. But some ways do. Sexual activity seems for most couples part of the glue, so to speak, that unites them. Maybe some examples to start with for Joe's question could come from married couples' experiences. If they make a thought-out decision that this point in their lives is not the right time to have children, or more children, can they not activate their higher-soul faculties in their lovemaking and at the same time use moral reasoning to decide not to activate the reproductive faculty? I think something like this is the question, but Joe, please correct if I am getting you wrong.

ETA: as I recall, one of Ed's points is that it perverts the "sexual faculty" to block or divert semen from arrival in the vagina. Wasn't part of the discussion about the pill the fact that semen isn't blocked or diverted? So activation of the reproductive faculty doesn't arise.





 

Last edited by ficino (8/11/2018 9:08 am)

 

8/11/2018 1:20 pm  #8


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

RomanJoe wrote:

However, what about instances of physical sexual pleasure that don't result in premature climax or climax outside of the vagina? For instance, crossing one's legs a certain way because it feels good, direct stimulation of a faculty without ejaculation, or even (though perhaps rare) sexual intercourse and stopping deliberately before climaxing. In these cases is one acting contrary to the natural end of the sexual faculty? If semen has not been ejaculated in aat all, if there was no redirected climax, say, in a condom or tissue, then would the non-climactic stimulation just be seen as using a faculty in a way "other" than its natural end rather than contrary to its natural end?

Well it seems it isn't very problematic for the defender of the PFA to simply concede that immorality of these particular actions isn't explained by this argument. IF the argument gets you to wrongness of acts like Sodomy and Contraception then it is an interesting argument anyway.. 
 

 

8/11/2018 3:02 pm  #9


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

Ficino my question is partly asking for clarification of Feser's PFA. From what I understand he seems to argue that to deliberately act contrary to the natural end of a sexual organ is to directly prevent it from fulfilling that end. This is immoral according to Feser. My question is whether or not initiating sexual stimulation of one's organ and not following through to climax would fall under "acting contrary to a natural end." One might get sexual pleasure from crossing his legs in a certain way but doesn't intend to climax and thus doesn't prevent the organ from fulfilling its natural end because there was no climax in the first place to prevent--say into a kleenex, condom, ones pants, etc.

Another example would be direct masturbation without the intention to climax. In such a case is one acting contrary to the end of the organ? Feser even discusses the legitimacy of using oral and manual stimulation as long as it doesn't provoke a premature climax.

If Feser concedes that sexual stimulation without intention to climax is not immoral like sexual acts with climax but deliberate frustration of that climax fulfilling the natural end of the organ are, then it seems like such a moral standard might be absurd. Under this scenario couldn't one technically sodomize someone without the intent of climax, or commit bestiality without the intent to climax, and such cases wouldn't be "acting contrary" to the end of the sexual organ?

     Thread Starter
 

8/11/2018 3:52 pm  #10


Re: What counts as perverting a faculty? (NSFW)

Hi Joe, I just typed a response but the computer ate it. Anyway, Feser gets into a lot of issues about the PFA in this talk he gave at Princeton. The moderator is Robert George, a new natural law theorist. It's long, but they discuss the PFA most in the interchange after Feser's actual talk. George disagrees with the PFA though he agrees with Catholic stipulations about sex (as far as I know - though I don't know his position on birth control).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rynlfggqAcU

I think your examples would be seen by Feser as perverted uses of the sexual faculty because the end in them is neither reproduction nor union with a spouse, so the pleasure would not be a concomitant of what Feser holds is the natural end of the sexual faculty. I believe Feser argues that chewing gum is a perverted though trivial use of a faculty because no nourishment comes to the body, so the pleasure doesn't serve a nutritive end. That might be an example consistent with your examples above.

Feser in the article states that the pleasures of sex exist for the sake of sex's procreative end (and its complementarian unitive end). On p. 409 he mentions harms that he says arise from getting sexual pleasure without procreative goals, as e.g. from pornography. I think he means not to make a separate, prudential argument but rather to fold this observation into the PFA, to block the person who argues that there are non-procreative but non-harmful sexual pleasures.

I think some of the difficulties don't arise if we stop talking about the sexual faculty, as I said above, but I haven't worked out a full articulation of that suggestion, and I may be off.

Last edited by ficino (8/12/2018 10:06 am)

 

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