Concupiscence

A: Well, if that’s what they call marriage then I don’t see why any couple couldn’t have one.

B: But you’re so committed to Natural Law arguments, and you’re Christian!

A: Right, but all Laurie and I did was fill out our parents names on a computer, go up to some Bureaucrat at a row of teller-windows, and sign something we barely read in front of him. There was no preparation, no articulated expectation, no ceremony. I don’t even take it as requiring or even allowing me to sleep with her, and neither does my Church. If this is marriage, there’d be nothing weird in marrying my dad.

B: I think you’d feel something odd in doing that

A: Maybe so, but would there be anything rational in the feeling?  If everyone at the office were marrying their dad, that weird feeling would disappear pretty quickly. There was just nothing in the activity that was, I dunno, marriage-like. What I did at the teller window can be opted out of at any time, without finding fault, for little more than a small fee and less paperwork than it takes to fill out a car loan; no one expects that it has to last; no one expects us to have kids or even puts any pressure on us to do so (if anything, its the opposite). I don’t take it as allowing me to sleep with her before our church ceremony, and I doubt anyone who was doing without the Church ceremony would wait for the civil one.

B: You’ve made that point about sex twice.

A: What can I say – being engaged sucks.

B: But just because something isn’t in an ideal state doesn’t mean you can just keep corrupting it.

A: That’s true – but I’m not saying that anything goes, but that the ceremony itself doesn’t demand anything that could be used as a principle of limiting that teller-window ‘ceremony’ to one man and one woman in a lifelong union who both do not actively try to thwart conception.

B: So the ceremony as it is does not contain any reality that might serve as a principle to limit the ceremony to what you consider is essential to marriage.

A: How can I point to anything in it and say “no, you shouldn’t be able to have this with your father”? What would clash with the demands of the contract, other than perhaps a purely arbitrary clause in the contract like “you can’t make this contract with your father”?. And what would that prohibition be except the corpse of an outmoded prejudice? I know exactly what I could point to in the religious ceremony to rule that out, and what rules it out in the definition of a marriage – but nothing in that teller ‘ceremony’.

B:  You keep saying that but it isn’t true. Whatever anyone thinks of marriage these days, they think it recognizes some sort of legitimate sexual desire and sexual relationship. People can disagree whether it plays a role in making the sexual desire licit to act on or not, or on what sorts of sexual desire are licit, but all sides agree that it is at least on this.

A: Okay, but so what? Sure, John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher can hold hands and agree that marriage recognizes a legitimate sexual desire and relationship.

B: That seems to rule out your “marry my dad” example.

A: I guess that’s right – but I don’t see how it gives me anything that has the essential notes of either matrimony or something meeting the minimal definition of marriage.

B: You would have to argue that legitimate sexual desire required all your essential elements of marriage: heterosexuality, lifelong commitment, no voluntary frustration of the link between sex and offspring, etc.

A: And how would anyone do that?

B: I don’t know – it’s your argument. Take it from the beginning – what is the basic desire at work in sexual desire

A: Easy: concupiscence.

B: And what is the structure of concupiscence?

A: It divides into the common and peculiar. Aristotle wrote about that first:

Of the appetites some seem to be common, others to be peculiar to individuals and acquired; e.g. the appetite for food is natural, since every one who is without it craves for food or drink, and sometimes for both, and for love also (as Homer says) if he is young and lusty; but not every one craves for this or that kind of nourishment or love, nor for the same things. Hence such craving appears to be our very own.

This seems to be our predicament with love too: not everyone craves one kind of love, nor do they love the same sorts of things. There’s a huge variety of sexual proclivities, orientations, and tastes.

B: So how are the two related to each other, this “common” and “peculiar”?

A: The second seems to arise out of the first. STA gives the briefest account I know of:

The reason [there are two] is because the appetite of the animal is moved by the instinct of nature alone, and so they enjoy only the things that pertain to preserving nature… but in man there is sense knowledge which becomes rational knowledge and then in turn moves human appetite. This is why a human being can delight in the very things suitable to sense considered as suitable, even if they are not ordered to preserving nature.

B: Is this some sort of biological point?

A: I don’t think so. Who knows what they’ll find out there in the crazy world of nature? I think the only point is that some desires have a clear orientation to preserving nature and others don’t.

B: But then what would happen if the peculiar desires became utterly detached from the common ones?

A: I think the closest analogue would be with wealth: one sort of wealth takes care of bodily needs (like having a large grain supply that you intend to eat) and other sorts of wealth is used for exchange (like money, or a large supply of grain you want to trade for something). Now it would be crazy to utterly cut off the latter from the former – to just keep heaping up coins or bartering chips with never a hope of using them.

B: A guy who did that would have no reason to seek them out in the first place.

A: Right.

B: But then sexual desire can never be cut off from that goal of preserving nature, can it?

A: That seems right.

B: And this “preservation” means simply keeping the nature in existence?

A: Right.

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