Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pleasure and same-sex sexual activity

  1. Each kind of deeply humanly significant pleasure is a way of affectively relating to an independent deeply humanly significant kind of good in which the pleasure is taken. (Premise)
  2. There is no deeply humanly significant good in same-sex sexual activity when the couple takes no pleasure in the activity. (Premise)
  3. Climactic sexual pleasure is deeply humanly significant. (Premise)
  4. Climactic sexual pleasure is a pleasure taken in sexual activity. (Premise)
  5. If a kind P of pleasure is a way of affectively relating to an independent kind G of good, and an instance of P fails in this way to relate to an existent instance of G, then that instance is empty. (Definition)
  6. It is wrong to deliberately induce an instance of a deeply humanly significant kind of pleasure when that instance is empty. (Premise)
  7. If there would be no deeply humanly significant good in an activity were the activity done pleasurelessly, then the activity fails to realize an instance of an independently deeply humanly significant kind of good. (Premise)
  8. Therefore, same-sex sexual activity fails to realize an instance of an independently deeply humanly significant kind of good. (By 2 and 7)
  9. Therefore, taking climactic sexual pleasure in sexual activity is empty when the partners are of the same sex. (By 1, 5 and 8)
  10. Therefore, climactic sexual pleasure between partners of the same sex is empty. (By 4 and 9)
  11. It is wrong to deliberately induce climactic sexual pleasure between partners of the same sex. (By 3, 6 and 10)

If this argument is sound, then heterosexual sexual relations intended to induce climactic sexual pleasure are wrong when they fail to realize a deeply humanly significant independent good. What could be that independent good? Well, if it's a deliberate attempt at reproduction, then sex is wrong whenever a couple isn't trying to reproduce. But I think the the pleasure in sex is not affectively associated with a voluntary and deliberate attempt to reproduce—there is too much of the animal in the pleasure. Likewise, the couple is not simply taking pleasure in their loving relationship—they are taking pleasure in sex. (If they were taking pleasure in their loving relationship, the sexual nature of the pleasure would be unexplained, since one can have just as deeply loving non-sexual relationships, or at best explained circularly.) Rather, it is that, I think, there is a completing of a biological whole in uncontracepted heterosexual intercourse, and that is deeply humanly significant. If this completing of a biological whole is what is deeply humanly significant about heterosexual sex, then oral sex, masturbation, and the like are ruled out. Contraception may not be immediately ruled out, but is still wrong since it is contrary to integrity: the couple is acting against the biological union which constitutes the deeply humanly significant good in which the climactic pleasure is being taken.

15 comments:

Alexander R Pruss said...

The above argument requires that "good" be understood throughout to mean "non-instrumentally good".

larryniven said...

It'll come as no surprise that I disagree, and this is the easiest place to do so:

"If they were taking pleasure in their loving relationship, the sexual nature of the pleasure would be unexplained, since one can have just as deeply loving non-sexual relationships, or at best explained circularly."

I don't bloody well think so. Or, if this is at all true, it's true because the "one" at the end is the weakest possible "one": some person in some world given some conditions. If "one" is either of the people involved, I'm pretty sure you could find twenty or thirty people who falsify this hypothetical just walking around your campus.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think one of the major mistakes of our culture is down-playing the meaningfulness and depth of non-sexual friendships. While deep intellectual, spiritual and emotional interaction can occur within a romantic relationship, it can also occur in other relationships, such as that between a disciple and a close spiritual advisor, between fellow monks, between fellow soldiers in the trenches, between persons devoting their lives to common pursuit of a cause, etc.

Moreover, there are plenty of fairly good marital relationships between people whose level of intellectual, emotional and spiritual sharing is not all that high--say, does not rise above the level of the sharing between two quite good non-sexual friends. If the other premises are correct, and if the unique good that sex is affective perception of is some kind of extra-high-level closeness, then sex will be prohibited to those married couples whose relationship does not soar. And that's clearly mistaken. (Of course, this probably won't convince you, since I expect you reject some of the other premises, too. :-) )

Moreover, I think there is another problem with the hypothesis that the pleasure is taken in the loving relationship. I think the pleasure of an activity should be tied to the good of that activity in its relational context (rather than of the relation which provides the context). For it is, at least to a significant degree, in the activity that pleasure is taken.

Brandon said...

I actually think this is a very interesting argument. The crucial and controversial premise, I take it, would be (2), which I think would be commonly rejected. Did you have in mind a particular line of thought for supporting it?

larryniven said...

You'll have to let me get back to the rest of it later because I'm too tired to think straight now, but this is precisely what I mean about watering down the sense of "one":

"While deep intellectual, spiritual and emotional interaction can occur within a romantic relationship, it can also occur in other relationships, such as that between a disciple and a close spiritual advisor, between fellow monks, between fellow soldiers in the trenches, between persons devoting their lives to common pursuit of a cause, etc."

All that proves is that for some people there are certain circumstances in which they can have deep, meaningful (and loving?) relationships, not that all people can. I mean, do you seriously believe that there has never in the history of the world been someone whose only loving relationship was with a sexual partner? That, more strongly still, there has never been someone who - due to whatever psychological state - could not have a loving relationship without sex? Given that more than six billion people currently exist, even if this were only infinitesimally likely for any given person, it would be a near certainty that at least one such person exists.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Larry:

All I need to show is that what makes a love relationship sexual is not the depth of the relationship. And a single case is enough for that.

Brandon:

I agree that work is needed. I think the way to do it is to say that apart from pleasure and procreation (and contingent things like hormonal secretions) the only plausible deep human good here is something like biological union, of the sort folks like Finnis and George talk about, and that's not available except in heterosexual intercourse.

larryniven said...

"All I need to show is that what makes a love relationship sexual is not the depth of the relationship."

Eek - I think this might be a bit mixed up. Wouldn't it be, all you need to show is that what makes a love relationship deep is not the sexuality of the relationship? Except that overlooks cases in which, for contingent reasons, sexual intimacy is a prerequisite for deep love. For such a person, if one exists, the sexuality wouldn't lend depth to the relationship per se, but it would contribute in a logically meaningful way to that depth, which - unless I'm mistaken - is all I need to show.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Larry,

I think which good a particular kind of pleasure is the appreciation of is unlikely to differ from person to person, just as the same auditory quale probably indicates the same vibrations across people, except maybe in cases of abnormality. I also think it's abnornal to be unable to have deep non-sexual relationships.
This isn't a full response.

larryniven said...

Oh, clearly it's abnormal, yes. One might even want to go so far as to say that it's defective or (given that this is taking place in the context of psychology) pathological. But the fact of its malfunction doesn't make it not a real phenomenon. Maybe I ought to try this via analogy with something that's definitely pathological, like OCD.

If you're obsessive-compulsive about (let's say) flipping light switches (which I think happens, but if not, fill in whatever mundane action you like), then in a real sense your happiness or contentment or whatever depends on your flipping light switches in a certain way. While in the wide sense happiness or whatever is independent from lightswitch-flipping (at least, I hope it is, for our ancestors' sake), for a person with lightswitch-flipping OCD, that's cold comfort, and it seems like total overkill to say that it's morally wrong for that person to flip light switches in seeking pleasure. Right?

Alexander R Pruss said...

The analogy is a bit flawed, because OCD persons don't flip switches for the pleasure of doing so. They do so out of compulsion.

Take a different case. Suppose Fred has a disorder whereby he gets the satisfaction that normal people get from selfless activity whenever he flips a switch. I think there is something wrong in self-inducing that pleasure--it leads to a distortion of the good life, I think.

larryniven said...

Right, the analogy isn't really as good as it could be, but I do think it's good enough to qualify for your argument. (I'm afraid you'll have to let me use some poetic language, at this point.) I would like to say, for instance, that the pleasure of ascending out of a stressful situation - of, say, the release on finding out that a lump is just a cyst and not cancer - is a deeply significant human pleasure. (Maybe you could convince me it's not deeply significant?) If so, then (1) implies it must relate to a similar actual good - in my example, the good of (relative) health. But this, or so I hear, is precisely the sensation of fulfilling an obsessive compulsion, even though there is no deeply significant human good in flipping light switches.

The other thing is that this indicates a wrinkle around that part I quoted initially. Because, even if OCD stuff doesn't really apply, we still couldn't say, "If OCD people were taking pleasure in the release of stress, it would still not explain why the pleasure relates to [e.g.] flipping light switches, since one can take pleasure in the release of stress without obsessively flipping light switches." I'm not totally sure that this fits, but it seems to.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think I can do something with the OCD analogy once stress is brought in. In the OCD case, we can identify a single good that is associated with the pleasure in both the OCD and non-OCD person: the relief of stress. Now, what would be perverse, though, would be to take a drug that makes one have the pleasure of stress relief without one's stress being at all relieved (this requires stress to be more than a form of distress).

larryniven said...

So - just to make sure I have this right - the relief of stress on that account is a good in itself? If so, I'm going to want to play your role and say that, no, relief of stress is only good if it has as its object a real human good, sort of in the same way that somatic pleasure isn't good in itself. Or, at least, it isn't wholly a good in itself? Something.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I was thinking that the relief of stress is intrinsically good because stress is intrinsically bad.

larryniven said...

Meh, okay - I guess I have to give you that one. It does open up new directions for me to go that I hadn't thought of, but that'd verge on the pedantic and, even worse, it'd commit me to arguing all sorts of things I don't really believe at all.

I guess if I ever actually encounter this kind of argument in the real world, I'll have to figure out a stronger attack - I would've had to anyway, because my objection we've been discussing here isn't near strong enough to get me to my desired conclusion. Along with Brandon, I'd probably choose (2) to go after, if not also (1) (although the way I'd go after (1) wouldn't actually help to build a positive case).