Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Long on Porter: "Close-In" Teleologies and the Natural Law

ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY HURLED criticism against the natural law is that it is mere "biologism," it dumbs down the moral order to the order of mere biology. Biology, it seems sensible to believe, is not morality. Yet the natural law philosophy, opponents argue, does just this. It moves from biological fact to moral oughts, and this is a simplistic, uncouth, and medieval perception of nature, highly prejudicial to man's real autonomy, wedding him as it were to his biology. Such concerns particularly show themselves when criticizing the natural law teachings regarding human sexuality. To look at the biological function of the human sexual organs and to extrapolate moral norms from them is, in the view of the opponent, nothing less than crass biologism.*

There is, in fact, little danger of a natural law philosophy of falling into mere "biologism," and the accusation is a false one. What presents the greater danger is the opponent of the natural law falling into an anti-biologism.** The real danger is that, as a result of nothing but bias or result-driven thinking or mistaken concepts, one may ignore real moral evidence by shrouding it with the term "biologism" and thereby not advert to what Long calls the "'close-in' teleologies" of nature, "metaphysical biology," or "bodily teleologies." There are, in fact, inclinations at the "micro" perspective or "close-in" levels of human functioning which inform us of the underlying moral law and which we ignore to our peril. To ignore these clues of God's law is arbitrary and is fraught with moral danger. The "'close-in' teleologies" can provide a partial, and though partial important, account of the natural law. What is learned from these "'close-in' teleologies," of course, is not be understood in isolation of "'far-out' teleologies"*** or macro perspectives. What is learned from "'close-in' teleologies" must be further interpreted and analyzed in the greater "narrative of unified normative teleology" and within "the whole hierarchy of morally significant human ends." It is this situatedness within a greater picture that prevents the "'close-in' teleologies" from being mere biologism.
While such close-in teleological analysis cannot tell one everything one needs to know about the ethical character and import of the act in question, it seems that it must indeed supply something of ethical significance to one's analysis, on pain of having an account of a whole that has no teleologically commensurated parts. Indeed, insofar as there is an order of ends, it is the case that there subordinated ends, and that these are intelligible as ends. It follows that something about these ends is knowable in precision from their further ordering, even while it is doubtless the case that absent the finis ultimus there would be neither such order nor such intelligibility.
Long, 164.

So, for example, the function of the sexual organs is a datum which must be considered, though certainly not the entirety of the data, in a moral assessment as to their use and abuse.

[I]f . . . one means that no knowledge of ethical significance may be implied by the natural ordering of our sexual functions in precision from the integration of this ordering with the wider goods of human life, this seems to be false. For how do we know the whole, apart from reference to the parts as parts? . . . . Why, then, should it be impossible to draw any proximate knowledge of ethical significant whatsoever from the "close-in" teleologies of nature, including the close-in teleogies of sexual nature?

Long, 162. The accusation of "biologism" is particularly vociferous in the area of sexual ethics. The reason for this is particularly apparent. The obvious purpose or end of the sexual organs is procreation,**** which informs, in a very strong way, the natural law prescriptions as to their appropriate use. The function of the genital organs immediately suggests, in a very strong and no uncertain way, that contraception, that homosexual sexual acts, that masturbation are contra naturam. It is because the "close-in" teleology speaks so loudly in the area of the sexual faculties that the sexual libertines scream "biologism" louder still. Herod's wife Herodias could not brook the sight of St. John the Baptist who condemned her marriage. Similarly, the sexual libertine cannot stand the manifest signal given by the sexual organs as to their proper ends. He cannot suppress the clear evidence of God's and nature's intendment on the moral use of the sexual organs, so he resorts to neutralizing it with louder noise of his own. But this is not to listen. This is not to think. This is just to put one's fingers in one's ears and scream, sort of like a child who does not want to hear the truth.

"I refuse to listen to my body!"

The "close-in" teleology or "metaphysical biology" is extremely important in a realist, essential natural law, and it is this sort of openness to bodily clues that informs, for example, John Paul II's notion of the "theology of the body," which is a notion that is hardly "biologism." It is folly to ignore any information, including information that may be obtained by the nature of the body and the nature of the functions of its parts. The body is not some evil that must be overcome or apart from freedom and autonomy is to be found. Man is body and soul, and not some Platonic spirit forced as punishment into an uneasy relationship with a prison-body. The body itself gives clue to God's ratio, certainly not the entirety of all clues, but at least some clues.

[T]he close-in teleologies of the body yield some ethical determinacy (for instance, what has widely become known under the phrase of the Roman vomitorium is contra naturam, and this judgment is reached upon realizing that to choose an act and then persistently negate the teleology of the act is--absent some overarching therapeutic medical need such as to induce vomiting of poison through an emetic--contrary to reason).

Long, 179.

Indeed, there may be more of an analogy between the vomitorium of the Romans and the sexual libertinism of the moderns than meets the eye: both practices are full of moral bile, wasteful spillage, and all for pleasure's sake.

*It is sometimes held up to ridicule, for example, by the irresponsible agnostic Robert Anton Wilson in his ramblings, rantings, and mumbo jumbo in his book lampooning natural law, Natural Law or Don't Put a Rubber on Your Willy (Port Townsend, WA: Loompanics Unlimited, 1987). A brief view of that book makes you aware that there was something seriously wrong with that man. May he rest in peace.
**And not perhaps a little Gnostic hatred of the body and a perception that any limitations upon us by the body ought to be perceived as evil and something that ought to be overcome by the "magic" of technology.
***The term "'far-out' teleologies" is mine, not Long's.
****The purpose or end of the sexual organs is clearly distinct from the consequences of their use which are affected by all manner of contingencies. The fact that their use does not always result in the consequence of procreation does not mitigate against the clear evidence of their purpose or end, their intrinsic teleology. "Close-in teleological analysis is not mere observing of consequence . . . . [r]ather, teleological analysis involves distinguishing accidental from essential in such a manner as to achieve knowledge of the normative end that defines a certain type of act." Long, 163.

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