Identity and sexuality (2)

1.) Whatever the number of human sexes, they are contraries in one species.

2.) If sex contraries are said of the human species as such, only humans have sexual difference.

3.) If sex differences are accidental, sexual difference has no value in describing any species.

4.) The consequent of (3) is obviously false: sexual dimorphism or uniformity is a primary and essential description of many species.

5.) The sexes are neither said of the species nor are accidental. Therefore they are differences within the genus as genus. The genus is clearly not restricted to any biological kingdom but is said properly of life.

6.) Any account of sexual difference has to appeal to an essential feature belonging to life as life. The account we give of sexual contrariety must be essential to even rudimentary forms of life. Sexuality is tied to identity at an ur-level that is subtends any formal difference, even one constituting the kingdoms.

7.) Sexual difference is complex enough to develop in stages, but the end result of this complexity has to also be explicable in terms of life as such.

8.) Life generates, i.e. it is (a) capable of a division giving rise to one and the same organism (b) existing in a more and less mature state. The more mature state is called parent and the less mature offspring. There are times when only (a) occurs, e.g. when an embryo divides into identical twins, but this is not generation since it happens without (b).


Sexuality and Identity

1.) We know that identity is somehow tied up with sexuality. We were known as sexed before we were even named (“It’s a boy!”).

2.) But to tie identity to sexuality only bundles one mystery to another. Our most dependable account of traits (the Big-5) are “first impression” traits, and they only gained wide acceptance in the early ’90’s. No one claims they capture the depths of identity, to say nothing of the many ways individuals and their behaviors are diverse or non-typical. Our grasp of sex differences is even fainter and more controversial.

3.) There is the additional problem that spirit is not a definite structure but a unity proportioned solely to the diversity of things. Sense organs and the whole of the central nervous system give a definite cast to exterior stimuli and also come with inherent responses to it – natures – but reason is not a nature in this sense. This is the basis of what downstream becomes the “nature-nurture” controversy, now seen as largely unsatisfactory.

4.) If we only accept science as authoritative and the science of identity and sexuality is so rudimentary and primitive, our own sense of identity will be incoherent and bewildered, and more so the more urgently we strive to understand identity. These are the only universal characteristics one can discern in discussions of transsexuality, irrespective of what one’s judgments of it are. I honestly have no idea what my opinions on it are supposed to be. Am I supposed to believe that nature generates n-number of genders or sexes, or that gender or sex is inherently a matter of decision? In either case, what is the account of “sex” that specifies the palate of options? Can we even agree it is binary?

5.) But have we ever had clear notions of identity? Isn’t this the familiar bewilderment about whether genius or criminality or character is born or made? Only a pure spirit could be entirely the result of its decision, only an animal has entirely innate behaviors.

6.) There is an Apollonian-Dionysian aporia to the yoking of identity and sexuality. Identity is  stable, substantive, narrative-based, underlying and solitary while sexuality points to an operation that is ecstatic, frenzied, communal, etc. “Sexual identity” is inherently bewildering on this axis of description.





Incarnation and the Divine Dilemma

Human evil is the consequence of the Fall. The Fall culminates in death but includes what anticipates it: sickness, pain, anxiety, victimization by others, etc. In a fallen world, all that any of these things prove is one’s alienation from God, and so all they promise is an eventual end in perpetual darkness and desolation of Sheol, Gehenna, the Underworld, etc.

The Fall and its consequences introduce a contradiction into God’s hesed, i.e. the Hebrew term that captures his faithful, steadfast, paternal love. As faithful, God must be true to his word in allowing the consequences of the Fall to continue, as paternal and loving he can’t endure to lose the whole human race to damnation.

How does the Incarnation solve the divine dilemma?

The Incarnation and death of Christ is God’s suffering the consequences of the Fall, which means that these consequences not only remain just what they are but also now are means of making someone like God. Again, without Christ, death, suffering, pain or sickness only prove our alienation from God, and this alienation can only culminate in Sheol or Hell, but given Christ’s passion these same pains now establish a likeness to God and therefore carry the promise of eventual complete assimilation into the communion of the people of God.

Seen from this angle Athanasius’s denial of Arianism is clear: if Christ is not God, then our sufferings do not re-establish a likeness to God but prove only our alienation from him. The Arian Christ is less of a scandal to the intellect considering the immutable God of the philosophers but the same Arian Christ is pointless and superfluous to one who considers God primarily as the faithful and loving father confronting the deliberate human choice to be evil.



Impressions of the divine dilemma

Divine dilemma, first impression. The value of the dilemma is that theodicy is not something that comes to an axial religion after it is fully formed, as if it now has to deal with the objection of evil in the universe. The response of a benevolent and all-powerful being is structuring the question of the Incarnation from the beginning. It’s what (a) assures that the human race became evil by the malice of some human (b) what assures that God cannot simply let the human race be damned.

Divine dilemma, second impression. No, it’s not that theodicy is part of Christianity from the beginning, but that the problem of evil is a garbled Christianity. It takes the Christian view of a paternal, omnipotent divinity but cuts out the logical development that leads to the Incarnation and redemptive death of Christ. “Theodicy” is a sort of forgetfulness that Christian orthodoxy is the revelation of God’s fatherly love in the midst of our proclivity to evil.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer genius of evil. God’s most interior reality is what scripture calls hesed, or fidelity and mercy (as RSV puts it, hesed is steadfast love). But for God to do away with the consequences of the fall would violate his steadfastness or fidelity while to allow those consequences to stand would violate his love and mercy. An insoluble contradiction is introduced into the heart of divinity.


Logical structure of Athanasius’s Divine Dilemma

1.) The human race is evil. 

We’re not evil in every way or on every occasion, but we frequently human badly: valuing short term satisfactions over long term ones, giving into our desire for lesser goods, being inordinately self-interested or self-abasing, struggling to be moderate. Why else is “doing whatever you want” taken to mean “being naughty or wicked”?

2.) Either (a) God made us this way or (b) he didn’t. 

Almost no one has ever believed (a), giving it the rare distinction of an opinion too stupid for even philosophers.

(b) divides into two options. Either (c1) God didn’t make us because he doesn’t exist or, like an Epicurean god, doesn’t care about human life, or (c2) Something other than God – let’s call it a creature – is responsible for the human race being evil.

(a) is neither rational nor Christian. (c1) is rational but not Christian. So the only possible Christian option – and really the only way to have a benevolent God and evil humans – is (c2)

3.) The creature who is responsible for human beings being evil either (a) had full, culpable knowledge of what exactly he was doing and how his actions would lead to the the human race being evil or (b) not. 

If (b), however, a benevolent deity would not allow humans to be evil as a consequence of his action.

4.) So the human race is evil because someone knowingly and culpably acted in such a way that the evil of the human race was a natural consequence. 

We don’t know what he did, but one can assume that human beings would have been born good if only we had X, some creature was made responsible for the existence of X, and he deliberately destroyed it.

5.) As a response, God could either (a) do something or (b) do nothing. 

If (a), the whole race would be lost for the sin of one, which is unfitting with divine mercy and paternal care. But if God “does something” this can’t mean taking away the consequence. To take away a consequence that one culpably incurs is to break a promise made, and one can’t establish a relationship with another – which would be the whole point of taking away the consequence – by breaking promises at the same time.

So God appears to be trapped by the demands of his mercy and his fidelity, by his goodness and his making of a promise.

Notice how much of this dilemma is parallel reasoning to the argument from evil. Athanasius at times seems to be giving a sort of theist account of the argument from evil, or articulating the only way one can square a benevolent deity with the evils in human life. The Incarnation is the resolution of the aporia in (5).

Plato’s moral division of the person (3)

Reason desires the real as real, and so our ontology of the real or existent has to account for it as an object of desire. It’s hard to see how the “thin” accounts of existence or the real do this – when I  reject the opportunity to cheat because I want real honors and not fake ones, am I acting out of the love of a number, as in I “desire the number of my honor not to be zero”? Do I reject life in an experience machine out of a desire for a merely logical predicate?


Mary fount of faith

Mary was present at both Annunciation and Pentecost, so no person of the Trinity ever came to earth except in her presence. The mission of the persons is to the whole world, but it starts from a single room sanctified by the Marian presence.

This suggests the metaphor of Mary as lighthouse and landing zone. Through its corruption the world collapsed into non-being, so much so that there was no space marked out in all the gloom for the definitive revelation of God. The world lacked the solidity in itself to bear this revelation unless it was heard first, and therefore first transmitted, from the mouth of the Mother of God.

The first revelation of the Trinity came to Mary, which means that even Jesus heard it first from her. Christ’s unique vision of the Hebrew Scripture, which he came to see as ordered to the definitive revelation of God’s Son who would give up his life so as to send the Comforter and Paraclete into his Church, came in the way all religious instruction comes: from ideas one develops from what he first hears from his mother. That faith comes from hearing includes the humanity of Jesus.

Again, The faith is fundamentally the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, and both were first revealed to Mary, making her the font and prime mover of the faith handed over to the people of God. The words of Scripture are essentially Marian words, and they continue to be so in their progressive development in the preaching of the Apostles, the symbola of the first Church councils, the witness of desert monasticism, the reflections of the fathers, the preservation of Rome in the East and the growth of Europe in the West…



The revelation suffered a wound in the Schism from which it is still recovering, but the Marian tradition continued – even if wounded – from Scholasticism to Vatican II in the West and in a less excitable and drama-filled way in the East. The split might reflect a weakness in the world that never can quite bear the full unity of the Church, which on the one hand develops as empire and in another way under empire. The pre-and post Constantinian Church is therefore mirrored in the Church under Islam and the Church as European power. But it’s clear that that era is now over, though the next one hasn’t come.



Plato’s moral division of the person (2)

Apparent goods don’t divide from real ones as false to true or illusory to substantive, but as what is not necessarily real from what is.

Apparent goods are either (a) common to all animals or (b) unique to humans. We’d almost prefer if  (a) were not real: given the choice between eating a real brownie and doing the same thing in the matrix, the second has lots going for it. One can get everything he wants out of the experience with none of weight gain. (B) goods are less amenable to being enjoyed in the matrix – it’s hard to be impressed with respect, glory, and esteem given by illusory beings – but there is still no contradiction in seeking illusory honors, which people in fact seek all the time when they cheat on exams or lie about what they’ve achieved.

But to desire the real precisely as real, irrespective of how successful we are in attaining it, is a distinct formality from either of these. For all that, it is still perverse to be indifferent to the reality of (a) or (b), which is part of the reason why cheating or hedonism are both moral evils.

Praeter intentionem

Since my kids are always citing “eating the whole tray of brownies” as a paradigmatic sin or moral evil, here’s an analysis of that action into typical elements.

1.) N-minutes worth of continuous, superabundant chocolaty enjoyment.

2.) The weakening of the will to resist future temptations.

3.) Some harm to health.

4.) Living one’s life secretly and in shame.

(1) is the only element of the action one intended or could intend in it. But (1) is a real good that anyone would, ceteris paribus, want someone to enjoy. It’s (2)- (4) that make the action evil.*

So the choice between good and evil is not between different intentions, but between an action that is wholly willed and one that is partially willed, i.e. between willing all we know about an action willing only part of what we know about it.

*They make it evil not just separately but in conjunction – so (3) by itself is typically not that bad, but in conjunction with (2) it’s considerably worse, i.e. almost all people will recover from the health harm with ease, but to injure health in a way that makes future injuries more likely is very much worse.

Plato’s moral division of the person

What is the basis for Plato’s division of the person into reason, spirit, and appetite?

Plato is trying to explain action and therefore something relative to the good. The triple division can only be into different modalities of goodness.

Goods divide into the apparent and real. Any real good is absolute, but apparent goods must appear to something. Things can appear to a person in two ways: in a way proper to persons and in a way common to persons and animals. So we get

Reason: The power that apprehends goods as such, or absolutely

Spirit: The power that apprehends apparent goods proper to humans

Appetite: The power that apprehends apparent goods not proper to humans and therefore common to non-human animals.

The goods of appetite are the most well known and we can fill out most of the day by passing from one to the other. Warm blankets and soft beds give way to warm breakfasts and coffee to soft chairs to filling dinners to cold, boozy drinks and a warm kiss and blankets again. While there is an obvious human element in all of this (more on that in the end) the pleasures as such do not need an apprehension of reality in order to be enjoyed. We enjoyed the goods of appetite years before we realized the world was real and could be spoken of truly, and they are apparent precisely for this reason, not because we have to assume they are illusory or evil or degraded.

The goods of spirit comprise the wide class of things done for glory or the respect of others. Students seek grades, men want to be seen in sports cars, women get their hair done, Achilles slays Trojans, etc. Such goods, while properly human, consist in being seen and judged in a certain manner by others and are therefore apparent.

Beyond this we can seek something precisely as true or real, or in a way that is not indifferent to the reality of the experience. Animals wouldn’t be dissatisfied by lives spent in Nozick’s experience chamber, nor would it make the experience of eating a brownie any different. The life of glory is different, so far as it seems like it would be a lot easier to enjoy eating a brownie in the experience chamber, even knowing it was fake, than to enjoy being praised by others in the same place while knowing they were fake. But while the reality of those who praise us is closer to the real it is also not identified with it since there is nothing at all to glory or esteem beyond the opinion of others. If everyone respected you for riding a dragon, the respect would be real even though the event was not. Again, apparent goods, while not illusory, are not inherently opposed to illusion.

Adding reason to a being that knows the other sorts of goods doesn’t mean it shuns the other goods but that it begins to care about their reality, just as Nozick’s point is not that the goods of appetite are bogus but that we care about their reality. It’s just this human demand that all goods be real that requires that reason lead the appetites, and which specifies the manner in which it should lead them. For example, a desire for unlimited consumption of food doesn’t respect the reality of food, but is like a wish to consume it in an experience chamber that would edit out all consequences that attend this sort of consumption in reality. Pornography likewise denies the reality of sexual experience, which is always situated in a life of persons which can’t simply cut to the next scene. The demand for reality in the goods of spirit is perhaps more straightforward: we don’t just want respect but want to be respectable.

Reason is capable of both abstracting goods, i.e. considering one way in which they are real while neglecting another and of caring about the reality of goods as that which alone apprehends the real as such. Taken in the first sense it becomes capable of moral evil, in abstracting the good of something from its other salient and attendant realities. Taken in the second sense action is properly practical and theoretical, with the moral as a subset of the former.

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