Fiddling around with the insemination hypothesis

Are traditional Christian sexual mores a result of seeing sex = insemination?

The equality indicates only ability to substitute, not definition. Wherever one would once say sex, he has to be able to say insemination.

What this might explain:

1.) Sex is procreative. The substitution of “insemination is procreative” causes little controversy, since it’s equivalent (perhaps even identical to) “sowing is for growth and eventual reaping”.

2.) Marriage is heterosexual. Marriage is consummated by insemination, and insemination is heterosexual. One can’t inseminate the gastrointestinal tract.

3.) All non-inseminating acts of sexual climax are “acts against nature”. Here the “nature” means “definition”, i.e. it is contrary to the definition of insemination to think one could do it to the gastrointestinal tract, by oneself, in same-sex couplings, into latex bags, etc.

4.) Artificial contraception is “against nature”. Here meaning “definition” again, but with a different account. Deliberately inseminating is contrary to deliberately attempting to rule out the possibility of it occurring.

Where it might break down:

1.) If sex is insemination it seems like it should be analyzed like sowing. But it would be a mistake (peccatum) to sow in midwinter. Sowing at times of infertility would be no less a mistake than to sow into a place that was infertile. This was Novak’s original critique of Catholic sexual ethics.

The charge is the familiar one of biologism, though it is not at all clear how biology is leaving something out when we analyze sexual activity while biology leaves nothing out when we analyze cognitive activity. The disembodiment that leads us to see the body as a tool of a sexless spirit might not be always easy to distinguish from the view that sees the brain as only a tool for a separated soul. Materialism and dualism might be both picking and choosing in their own ways.



An NFP post

0.) NFP writing is driven by experience, and experience is always more variegated than any one act of writing can capture. Mrs.Darwin hits just the right note with “NFP has been, intermittently, a trial, a slog, a blessing, a lifeline, and just a thing that we do or don’t do, depending on necessity.” The list could be multiplied ad infinitum and, to make it even more difficult, any set of descriptions can be different dimensions of one and the same experience.

1.) Some programs use fertility awareness as a supplement to artificial contraception, but I’m here understanding NFP as something morally opposed to artificial contraception (AC). It is not opposed to the goal of AC but to the means. Having sex while avoiding conception is an activity with no fixed moral status – it can be anything from virtuous to selfish, loving to exploitive. There is probably some interesting moral story to be told here and an interesting set of distinctions to be made, but I’m leaving them all aside. I’ll assume the goal is given as virtuous (though, again, this is only a possibility) and consider only the means.

2.) AC is deliberately rendering any acts of intercourse infertile, whether through barriers, chemicals, surgeries, or any other means of art. Human beings have extensive experience doing this in morally unproblematic ways: we spay and neuter pets, geld horses, castrate farm animals, etc. Krueger National Park even controlled the elephant population with Norplant. This is morally unproblematic since the use of animals for our own enjoyment is unproblematic. By “use” I don’t mean merely that we can use animal functions or skills for our benefit but that they are subordinate to us in such a way that allows for their existence to be a matter of use. This is why if AC on these animals is either inefficient or undesirable we would just as soon control the species by killing off members. We don’t castrate male chicks since it’s easier just to dispose of them. We don’t geld bucks in the woods since its easier and more enjoyable to hunt them.

3.) Here’s the syllogism:

The existence of human animals is never subordinate to the use or enjoyment of other humans.

The moral justification of AC requires that an animal’s existence be subordinate to human use or enjoyment.

There is no moral justification for a human animal to use AC on a human animal (whether in the person of himself, or another)

Both premises are variants of arguments from St.JPII, though my explanation is orthogonal to John Paul’s.

4.) While other arguments against AC make it relevantly similar to other sorts of non-procreative sex, it’s more relevantly similar to cannibal-farms or suicide. We can’t farm persons for soilent green since the existence of a person can’t be ordered to the use and enjoyment of another. We can’t kill ourselves because our own existence is not entirely our own but is always possessed by others, whether partially by our loved ones or entirely by the divine.

5.) AC is part of the larger project of making human existence existentially subordinate only to itself. Euthanasia and embryo farming would be other practices in the same line. But the general act of usurping divine prerogatives for ourselves describes a class of actions that is much broader and more ancient than our ability to effectively practice AC.





The fact-theory structure of knowledge is subordinate to its insight-reasoning structure. Knowledge is always from insight, whether this is a partial one in search of strength (a guess, tinkering, hypothesis) or the complete insight we have into geometrical definitions or common notions. Reduction to fact co-ordinates phenomena but things only count as facts so far as they give insight – the “theory-ladenness” of fact is just a clumsy way of saying that things count as facts because they give insight.

Aristotle accounts for insight either by metaphor (“the soldiers just stop running”) or as a quasi-instinctual grouping of phenomena. Plato’s account turns on insight being somehow different from its occasion (it makes something shift from a mere occurrence to a fact) and that recollection is seeing something that makes us think of something different. We’re more in debt to Aristotle for articulating the respective criteria of insight and of reasoning, now called material and formal logic.


The Ring of Gyges at different resolutions

Republic II, 360, Glaucon speaking to Socrates:

According to the tradition, Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the king of Lydia; there was a great storm, and an earthquake made an opening in the earth at the place where he was feeding his flock. Amazed at the sight, he descended into the opening, where, among other marvels, he beheld a hollow brazen horse, having doors, at which he stooping and looking in saw a dead body of stature, as appeared to him, more than human, and having nothing on but a gold ring; this he took from the finger of the dead and reascended. Now the shepherds met together, according to custom, that they might send their monthly report about the flocks to the king; into their assembly he came having the ring on his finger, and as he was sitting among them he chanced to turn the collet of the ring inside his hand, when instantly he became invisible to the rest of the company and they began to speak of him as if he were no longer present. He was astonished at this, and again touching the ring he turned the collet outwards and reappeared; he made several trials of the ring, and always with the same result-when he turned the collet inwards he became invisible, when outwards he reappeared. Whereupon he contrived to be chosen one of the messengers who were sent to the court; where as soon as he arrived he seduced the queen, and with her help conspired against the king and slew him, and took the kingdom. Suppose now that there were two such magic rings, and the just put on one of them and the unjust the other;,no man can be imagined to be of such an iron nature that he would stand fast in justice. No man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out of the market, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a God among men. Then the actions of the just would be as the actions of the unjust; they would both come at last to the same point. And this we may truly affirm to be a great proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever any one thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice, and he who argues as I have been supposing, will say that they are right.

At the first level of resolution, Glaucon’s story of the ring of Gyges is much longer than it needs to be. Gyges finds a ring that makes him invisible and uses it to get away with murder. Gyges’ former moral life was therefore pretense and hypocrisy, and most of the world is like him in this. Why else would we think it is a bad idea to randomly distribute invisibility rings to the population?

At a sharper level of resolution one sees something very different. Glaucon is a shepherd who leaves his sheep to wander into a hole leading under the earth, where he finds both treasure and corpses. In the deepest part of the pit he finds a bronze horse, and inside the horse is a corpse wearing an invisibility ring. Gyges, in other words, leaves off the care and tending to the good of others because he becomes fascinated with the underworld, and with each step he becomes more and more fascinated with death and treasure. At the center of this Hell one finds a Trojan horse, i.e. something that everyone takes as a gift from the gods but which is in reality a curse. Gyges takes the ring, i.e. he betroths himself to the totality of this underworld and in doing so becomes a ghost. He dies in the underworld and brings death back with him.

The other interaction problem

The interaction problem rests on the deeper interaction problem of the insufficiency of interactive causes. The relation of an interactive cause to its effect it is always somehow one part moving another part. The wheel moves because the engine does, the engine moves because the gas expands, the gas expands because the spark plug lights it, etc. It makes no difference if the causes sprawl out in time so long as the casual story stays unified and, with interactions, it always does. The avalanche happens because the last snowflake falls on the slope, the snowflake falls because it condenses in the clouds, the clouds condense because the pressure drops, the pressure drops because… etc. There is no answer to where or when interactions start. To be more blunt,  interactions don’t start. They have no arche or principium.

At this point it seems to make sense to reach for things that are just so with no explanation, which in the present climate are assumed to be “brute facts”. Reaching for these, however, also involves an inference from tacit beliefs since it is only because we want to preserve fundamental explanations and interaction that we conclude that the arche or principium of things is an unexplained and unexplainable facticity. The need to have some source of the action demands that something be first, and the demand that all explicable actions be interactive demands that the first principle be inexplicable. That said, the inference is a non sequitur since, even assuming inexplicable facts exist, the inexplicable is broader than facticity. There is no explanation for why anything is its logos or definition, but defining terms is not a matter of asserting brute facticity but of achieving insight. No one could imagine a Socratic search for a definition ending with sheer assertion of something being just so.

If we reduce all to the inexplicable as logos, action reduces to self-action as opposed to interactive co-activity. Interaction remains as a secondary cause or instrument used in different ways for the expression of the self-active.

A short anti-modalism

On modalism, the Father and the Son are like George Orwell and Eric Blair or like the same man who is teacher and coach. But it would be strange to the point of incoherence to describe the modal distinction of the same individual as Father and Son. If Orwell published under the name Eric Blair Jr. we probably wouldn’t see it as a pen name but either as a lie or a confusion about what “Jr.” means, and while the same individual might be both a father and a son, this occurs only relative to some other distinct individual and not – as modalism demands – from the same individual relative to itself.

Modalism, in other words, would predict the revelation of a creator and redeemer or Father and teacher, or some other familiar case of things distinguished in ratio or function. As it stands, we get a revelation that always literally describes the separation of persons in one nature.

Persons and irreplaceability

-If you killed an animal’s mate and replaced it with another so that it couldn’t tell the difference, then all would have worked out well. But to do the same thing to a human being is either psychotic or absurd, even if (and perhaps especially if) the person couldn’t tell that you’d made the switch on them. Two features of persons coalesce in this: (a) the irreplaceablity and consequent non-countability of persons and (b) the fact that, for persons, truth is a value, i.e. it matters to us whether there is an agreement between our beliefs and reality.

-The two features of persons give rise to two radically different modalities of personal dignity. According to (a) the dignity we have in inviolable and given ontologically from the mode in which we exist; according to (b) our dignity is found in living according to the truth, which is not given from birth or as an inviolable ontological constituent but as an ideal we both strive for and fear to lose.

-The irreplaceable character of persons is easiest to see in divine personality, which might be why theologians first noticed the importance of persons. The replaceability of God is a logical impossibility: If you lost one, the reason you couldn’t create another one is clear from the terms. In fact, all persons are like this.

-The irreplaceability of persons is not the practical difficulty of replacing them, which is what one means in calling the rainforest or planet irreplaceable.

-Sentimental value is personal value, or the value of entering into the life of a person. We can have an emotional response to Rowe’s fawn, and perhaps even a righteous indignation, but not a sentimental attachment.

Distinction and countability

Not all distinctions are experienced as numbered. A tray or Oreos or a row of cars is some more or less distinct number of things, but the difference between my actual face and the mirror or my hand and the doorknob isn’t some class of objects with two entities in it. Sure, once someone points this out I can retroactively find some class for hands and doorknobs, but only by changing channels from the original experience, which was not one of countable reality.

While it seems like the individual is what is counted, this occurs only when individuality somehow adds nothing to homogeneity. Counting as such is not of individuals but or replaceable or interchangeable individuals. Things can be replaceable in one sense and not in another: if you send your wife to the front of the boat to weight it down then you might just as well replace her with a big-enough pile of sand. But the word “person” indicates what is non-countable per se, and which can extend this property to others though valuing them.

Good poet, not good man

Thrasymachus might to be the first character in a Platonic dialogue to distinguish between the per se and the per accidens, by pointing out that rulers “in the most precise sense” (ἀκριβέστατον) never make mistakes (1. 340e).  The distinction turns out to be his undoing, since rulers in the precise sense also can’t exploit their subjects for gain or seek anything other than the perfection of state and subject.

The distinction turns out to be an even more definitive undoing of the Thrasymachian idea of justice, since it does away with the ability to distinguish doing well in any human activity from being a good man. Thrasymachus is at his most convincing when he argues  that being a good ruler has nothing to do with being a good man, and that the two are even opposed to each other, but this can never be so except to the extent that he is speaking about a ruler more or less per accidens. A surgeon might use his skill to torture others or kill them more effectively, but this doesn’t make surgery a sort of torture or skill of killing. Jack the Ripper might have had medical training, but he wasn’t acting as a doctor when killing. More broadly, if anything is human then skill in it can’t be divided from perfection as a person, i.e. from the moral law. We can say that, say, Shelley was  “a good poet but not a good man” only in the way that Jack the Ripper was a good surgeon but not a good man. If we isolate some activity entirely from the moral law we lose the ability even to call it human.

The Remote Mysteries

I’m fiddling around with the idea of Remote Mysteries of the rosary, as ways of meditating on Christ outside of the Gospel.

1.) The Creation. Here I lean heavily on Athanasius, whose first principle of redemption is that redemption comes through The Logos since creation was first through The Logos. Included in this is chiefly the logos that is man and the angels.

(And why start with creation as opposed to the procession of the Logos from the Father? If one did that he could dump #2 and replace it with Creation.)

2.) The Protoevangelion. The first promise of the redeemer. Cutting to this is abrupt, and the promise itself is short and without context. But how could there be a mystery of the corruption of the image?

3.) The types of Christ. If the Last was too short, this seems far too long. One mystery for the whole OT?

4.) The general resurrection and judgment. The beginning of the fulfillment of the kingdom in the last days, leading to…

5.) The fullness of the Kingdom. 


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