Definitions of sex, naturalism and the marriage debate

The definition of sex is surprisingly hard to pin down. There are a few common tropes such as that which produces orgasm or that which is pleasurable. But neither of these will do because sex can be sans orgasm and pleasure can be induced in other ways. One may say it’s the insertion of a penis in certain orifices, but of course this won’t do either for obvious reasons. Consent is also insufficient.

The traditional western definition is the coming together of two distinct individual organisms as one organism for the production of a new life. However, this takes something like a Platonic or Aristotelian realism and a fundamentally teleological view of nature for granted.  This just begs the question: can a society that is essentially naturalistic (i.e. no forms and no teleology) produce a meaningful definition of sex?

The naturalist position is the reverse of the realist position. For the realist, the man as substance is both more real than and is the final cause of his various accidents (such as his appendix for example). This view can most simply be thought of as wholes causing parts. For the naturalist-cum-atomist, atoms are the substance and man is the accident – parts causing wholes. This is the problem of the one or the many. When the naturalist view is fleshed out, not only is the definition of sex problematic but also the principles by which distinct individuals (which are necessary for sexual intercourse) have their being.

Therein is one of the potential sources for confusion in the modern debate regarding sex and marriage. The cart has gone well and truly before the horse; the question of the morality of sex must be subsequent to inquiry into the nature of sex itself. We don’t know what to do with sex and by extension marriage, simply because as a society the west has no understanding of what these things are.

Nietzsche: the death of God and cultural criticism


God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

— Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125

“God is dead” – the oft quoted, but seeming as oft misunderstood, idea of Nietzsche. These words are often casually dropped in conversation, as if a soundbite, but rarely does the mournful gravity of Nietzsche’s contention break through.

The mourning comes from recognising the crisis that the death of God will bring upon the individual and  Europe as a whole, and whether Nietzsche meant death as literal or figurative doesn’t change this point. For Nietzsche, when one gives up the credulity of the existence of God, one also necessarily relinquishes one’s right to Christian morality. Furthermore, one is left with a universe absent of objective values and truth – a disorderly place that at first glace seems to evoke the only natural response of nihilism. Nietzsche’s solution to this nihilistic tendency was the ubermensch and his will to power.

Thus arises Nietzsche’s vehement criticism of “the herd”. Nietzsche saw the popular culture as embracing the false Christian morality in order to avoid the use of their own will. As Marx held that religion holds man back from the sanctity of his labour, so Nietzsche criticises the herd for holding back the rise of the ubermensch, culminating in their own damnation.

Nietzsche: existentialism and value

2834017-ubermenschIn this previous post, I outlined Nietzsche’s epistemology of perspectivism. In summation, Nietzsche rejects an objective reality of the sort posited by rationalists such as Plato and Descartes, and contends that human knowledge cannot be independent of perspective.

Like most great thinkers, Nietzsche wrestled with the moral questions of how one should live one’s life. The context of Nietzsche’s writings is important: he was working at a time when the values of European Christianity were under intense scrutiny and the role of the Church in everyday life was being steadily dimished.

Thus Nietzsche presents his solution to the angst of a man living in a post-Christian nihilistic world: the ubermensch. Following from his rejection of objective truth, Nietzsche naturally sees the creation of a value as being more worthy than the value itself. An ubermensch is a type of superman that is aware of the absurdity of objective truth and understands that his most potent activity is the domination of the external world through the exertion of his will. Nietzsche calls his voluntaristic theory of human behavior the “will to power”.

Nietzsche shares existentialist similarities with Kierkegaard, who also thought truth was subjective and generated through relationship (though particularly with God contra Nietzsche).

The contrast with Plato is interesting. Plato was known for criticising artists that would represent the external world in differing perspectives. Plato considered this kind of knowledge a mere opinion (doxa) based upon a shadow that was cast by true reality, the Forms.

Some pictures from Greece and Italy

The excavations of Aristotle's Lyceum in Athens

The excavations of Aristotle’s Lyceum in Athens

Bust of Aristotle at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

Bust of Aristotle at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The School of Athens by Raphael, Vatican Museum

The School of Athens by Raphael, Vatican Museum

Friedrich Nietzsche and perspectivism

nietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) was a German philosopher known for his body of work criticising religion, morality and contemporary culture as well as his ideas regarding the primacy of the will in human affairs. Like Kierkegaard, he was an aphorist whose work was rich in irony and metaphor. Nietzsche enjoyed only a brief career as a professional academic due to health problems that frustrated him for most of his life. At age fourty-four, he underwent a complete mental breakdown and lived his remaining years in the care of his sister.

Like most great thinkers, the interconnectedness of Nietzsche’s ideas can be crystallised through an analysis of his epistemology. Nietzsche begins by dismissing the ideas of rationalist thinkers such as Plato and Kant regarding an objective reality and our minds ability to known it. Nietzsche’s primary reason for rejecting the rationalist thesis is that there is no idea that is independent of interpretation and no interpretation that is independent from an interpreter. Furthermore, each interpreter is influenced by cultural norms, language and etc. Nietzsche’s epistemology of interpretation has come to be known as perspectivism.

There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival “knowing”; and the more affects we allow to speak about a matter, the more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our “concept” of this matter, our “objectivity” be. – Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic.

Perspectivism at first glance may appear to collapse into relativism – but for Nietzsche this was not the case. While perspectivism is relative in its refusal of  objectivism, according to Nietzsche there are some views that are simply false (such as the view that there is an objective reality). The consequences of Nietzsche’s skepticism caused him to reject a host of philosophical concepts such as substance, being, object-subject and etc. that were generally taken for granted by both modern empiricists and rationalists alike.

Charles Peirce and pragmatism

indexCharles Peirce (1839 – 1914) was an American polymath known primarily in his time for his work as a scientist. However, his popular legacy is the development of the distinctly American school of thought that would come to be known as pragmatism.

Peirce was educated as a chemist and worked as a scientist for over thirty years. Peirce’s philosophical work can best be understood in the light of his scientific predilections; that philosophy was no different to modern science, an experimental discipline that ought to yield real insight into the operations of the natural world.

Peirce authored what he called the “pragmatic axiom”:

It appears, then, that the rule for attaining the third grade of clearness of apprehension is as follows: Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

- Popular Science Monthly, v. 12, pp. 286–302

The above signaled the birth of the pragmatic thesis that it is the function of an idea that represents its truthfulness rather than any supposed correspondence to reality. With its rejection of classical and medieval rigour, pragmatism conforms neatly to the spirit of modern theoretical inquiry.

At first glance, the association of pragmatism and the verificationism of positivsts like Comte seems extensive. Yet, Peirce did not neglect metaphysics but rather subjected his philosophical exploration to a thoroughly pragmatic and scientific rigour – the purpose of which was to eliminate doubt and move toward certainty.

A brief argument for dualism

dualism-2Athanasius proposes the following cosmological argument in The Incarnation:

If everything has its beginning of itself, and independently of purpose, it follows that everything would only exist, so as to be alike and not distinct.

And, given that body is homogeneous, it would follow that everything must be sun or moon, or that a man would be only a hand, or eye, or foot.

But as it is this is not so; rather, we see a distinction of sun, moon, and earth; and again, in the case of human bodies, of foot, hand, and head.

Now, such arrangement of separate things as this tells us not of their having come into being of themselves, but shows that a cause preceded them; namely God, the one who makes and orders all.

I thought it would be interesting to adapt this very unique argument into a syllogism for dualism (a less lofty conclusion than Athanasius’).

1) Matter is differentiated in various ways.

For example, an oxygen atom or a carbon atom and etc.

2) This differentiation is contingent and therefore requires a principle of its being.

There is a plurality of material things – that they are one way but they could be another.

3) The principle of differentiation cannot be physical because a physical principle of differentiation would require a physical explanation ad infinitum.

I have argued elsewhere that an essentially ordered series cannot proceed infinitely.

4) The principle of differentiation is therefore not physical.

Therefore dualism is true.


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