It is invalid and holds no weight

So, I was derping around on the internets and I ran into an article with the following portentous title: "A Rational Basis for Marriage between One Man and One Woman."  Curious, I read on.  Here's how it begins:

It is imperative for Catholics to develop rational arguments to defend the institution of marriage in the public square. We live in a pluralistic society and, therefore, what we accept as revelation is not necessarily accepted by others. However, an argument grounded in right reason—without explicit recourse to revelation—is in principle comprehensible to all persons of good will.

I'm all in agreement.  It continues:

As we consider the current debate over marriage, it would be a mistake to underestimate the pedagogical function of the law and how a fundamental change in marriage law will result in a fundamental change in our understanding of the human person. What is at stake in the push to redefine marriage to include same-sex partners is not only the radical redefinition of marriage—but, also and necessarily, the radical redefinition of the human person and the entire range of relationships that constitute our basic experience as persons: male and female; husband and wife; mother and father; son and daughter; brother and sister.

Well, that's a bad sign–there's going to be a slippery slope!  But that's not what interests me about this piece.  It's the following two paragraphs (directly from above):

Marriage between one man and one woman is recognized as a public institution, with its attendant benefits and responsibilities, precisely because it serves the common good. Marriage offers the State its most necessary common good: bringing children into the world and raising them in a family that includes the love of their mother and father. The State needs people (citizens) in order to flourish: no people = no State. Under the principle of subsidiarity, the common good is better served when mothers and fathers raise their children, not the State.

Extending marriage to same-sex partners will redefine marriage in such a way that marriage will no longer be understood to have a direct relationship to the procreation and education of children. Bringing children into the world and raising them will be seen as extrinsic rather than intrinsic to marriage.[1] Openness to procreation will no longer belong to the very substance and definition of marriage. It will be reduced merely to an option for those couples who happen to want children.

If you're playing along at home, the first paragraph seems to suggest that it's either Trad Marriage (by the principle of WTF) or the STATE RAISES YOUR BABIES.  It also seems to allege that there will be no babies without marriage.  But forget about that.  The second of the two rests on a couple of key instances of the passive voice: will be understood and will be seen.  Well, I wonder, by whom?  Let's rewrite the passage in the active voice:

Extending marriage to same-sex partners will redefine marriage in such a way that [rewrite: some people, catholics, etc. will no longer understand] marriage to have a direct relationship to the procreation and education of children. [rewrite: These people will see ] that Bringing children into the world and raising them [is] extrinsic rather than intrinsic to marriage.[1] Openness to procreation will no longer belong to the very substance and definition of marriage. It will be reduced merely to an option for those couples who happen to want children.

The passive voice just covers up all of the questions being begged.  Marriage, in its public legal sense, has many definitions.  In some states, this already includes same-sex marriages.  As a public institution, therefore, it has "no substance and definition" in some kind of robust metaphysical sense, as the use of the passive suggests.  People see marriage in all sorts of ways, and they define it as a public institution in different ways.  Some people may "understand it to be x" but that doesn't mean that they understand it correctly.  Nor for that matter does it mean that they aren't fully entitled to live it that way.

If you want to make openness to procreation a part of your marriage, then get married in a Catholic Church.  If you don't care, as some already don't, then don't.  Catholics do not own the definition of marriage as a secular and public institution.  If you're going to make an appeal to reason, right or otherwise, you cannot presume without argument that your view is the starting point.       


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17 Responses to It is invalid and holds no weight

  1. Right Reason says:

    Look who's calling Porky a pig! You presuppose there is no objectively true public definition of marriage without making an argument to support your presupposition. The argument that there is no objectively true public definition of marriage simply because not all people agree on the same definition–is, to say the least, invalid and unproven. 
    Okay, so you're argument (pure sophistry):
    1. Marriage, in its public and legal sense, has many definitions.
    2. Some states allow same-sex marriage.
    3. People see marriage and define it as a public institution in many ways.
    4. Therefore, there is no metaphysical (objectively true) definition of marriage as a public institution.
    Haven't taken logic since undergrad; don't remember all the fallacies. But, Wow, how easy it is to undress your argument. Talk about begging the question: without any reasonable argument, you simply assume there is no objectively true public definition of marriage — all because different people have different definitions. I'd hate to be an English teacher trying to grade vocabulary tests using your logic!
    Your conclusion is invalid: it does not logically follow that because there are many public definitions of marriage, all definitions are equally valid; nor does it follow that there is not, in fact, only one definition that is objectively true. 
    If 100 different people give a different answer to 100 + 0, it does not follow that there are 100 correct answers; nor does it follow that there is only 1 correct answer. You need to do a little better in arguing against an objectively true public definition of marriage than simply citing evidence that not all people agree.

  2. John Casey says:

    Hi Right Reason,

    Nice try. But there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of objectively true definitions of such things. If there is, it’s up to you to provide that evidence. The article referred to in the post didn’t do this. It just assumed such a definition to exist, to be under threat, and to be obviously true to anyone who reasons. It’s clearly not.

    But that wouldn’t begin to address the problems with that view. The question is whether there is reason to exclude same sex couples from the set of rights afforded to heterosexual couples. Call it what you want.

    The analogy with mathematics is also, by the way, specious.

  3. Right Reason says:

    John, you have actually read Aristotle, no? The father of logic and rational arguments was also the father of the philosophy of natural law. You pretend to use logic and reason, yet a priori exclude any marriage argument based on the natural law as invalid. (I assume you know that natural law arguments have always concluded that procreation is an essential end of sex and is what connects marriage to the common good.) You deny, a priori, that sex and marriage can have objectively true ends that are discoverable through the use of our reason.
    Because, basically, the entire Western natural law tradition concerning the objective ends of marriage include procreation, you are the one who needs to provide evidence that there is "no evidence of such things." Give me a natural law argument for same-sex marriage. If you're going to enter into rational arguments about marriage as a public institution, John, you need to step up your game quite a bit.

  4. John Casey says:

    Gee Right Reason, you don't seem to get what begging the question is.  Begging the question, in one important sense, is presuming something that needs proof.  In this particular case, it's the idea that there is natural law which yields the conclusion you say it does.  There may or may not be, but that's not the starting point of this discussion.  So I don't, as you allege, dismiss any argument based on natural law as invalid a priori.  Those arguments may be perfectly valid.  They're just not sound.  Such a tradition exists, in various, forms, across Aristotelian and non Aristotelian philosphers.  The existence of this tradition, however, does not entail that it is (a) a singular unequivocal one; (b) correct.  Furthermore, noticing that social institutions, such as marriage, have actual ends (in social goods or whatever) does not thereby entail that those ends are dictated by nature (or natural law, whatever that means).  So I don't need to give you a natural law argument for same sex marriage. You'd have to give me an argument that only natural law arguments count.

    Recall that the entire point of this discussion was whether a case can be made for denying marriage rights to same-sex couples based on reason alone. 

    So  back to begging the question.  It appears that Bill Maguire has assumed the current Catholic definition of marriage as the one based on reason alone.  This clearly presumes what he would need to show, which is begging the question.  So of course it seems absolutely rational.  Because if you define something as the only rational outcome, then use that definition to show that it is the only rational outcome, you've proved your case.

  5. John Small Berries says:

    "Extending marriage to same-sex partners will redefine marriage in such a way that marriage will no longer be understood to have a direct relationship to the procreation and education of children."
    Yet the Catholic Church's own <a href="; title="canon law">canon law</a> (Can. 1084, §3) states that "Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage". I guess the "direct relationship to the procreation and education of children" isn't a necessary thing for mixed-sex couples.
    At least where sterility is concerned; §1 forbids marriage in the case of "antecedent and perpetual impotence". I don't really see how the end result is any different; in neither case could the couple have a "direct relationship to the procreation and education of children". (Well, the procreation part, anyway.)
    If the Catholic Church refused to solemnize the marriage of anyone who is sterile, barren, or past childbearing age, they would at least not reek of double standards when attempting to claim that same-sex marriages cannot be permitted because procreation would not be possible. But their position is as inconsistent as it is incoherent.

  6. Right Reason says:

    Wow! John, you are aware of the principle of non-contradiction, no? And you are, I hope, aware that such a principle is self-evident, that it is not provable, that a first principle is precisely what makes rational arguments possible as well as discovering truth through the use of reason? I presume you are aware that Aristotle compares arguing with a person who does not acknowledge first principles to arguing with a vegetable, i.e., a non-sentient, non-rational being?
    A cannot be non-A, correct John?
    Can male (A) = female (non-A)? Can father (A) = mother (non-A)? Can husband (A) = wife (non-A)? Can opposite-sex union (A) = same-sex union (non-A). Oh, wait, you must be a non-essentialist Aristotelian. Imagine that: an Aristotelian who does not believe in essences–that somehow terms like male/female, father/mother, husband/wife are socially constructed rather than grounded in nature and being.
    A main problem with your argument, John, is that you consistently violate the principle of non-contradition. You try to hide this by simply appealing to public opinion and then attempting to stretch definitions so far as to render them without meaning. You want to make two different realities the same thing. Invalid.
    Rather than begging the question, perhaps what really happened was that Maguire gave you far  too much credit. Most people, John, through the excercise of common sense and reason, understand that marriage includes sexual intercourse and that sexual intercourse has at least one undeniable end/purpose: procreation. Is Maguire begging the question on that one, too? Does he really need to prove by rational argument that marriage is ordered to sexual intercourse and that sexual intercourse is ordered toward procreation? And, finally, does he have to prove by rational argument that two men are incapable of engaging in sexual intercourse and are therefore incapable of procreation–that two men fail to meet two of the core features of marriage: sexual intercourse and procreation?

  7. Right Reason says:

    Small Berries, you remind me of those students who make comments about articles they haven't even read. And clearly you didn't read the article under question. Do us a favor, please do the reading assignment before raising your hand. See the following:
    "Some might object that if we have proven anything, we have proven too much: if we were to insist that openness to procreation belongs to the very essence and definition of marriage, we would have to exclude not only same-sex partners from marriage, but infertile heterosexual couples as well. When examined carefully, however, this objection is not valid and does not hold weight. The sexual activity of an infertile heterosexual couple is intrinsically open to procreation—even though their sexual union cannot result in procreation. The sexual act of an infertile couple is the kind of act that is open to procreation; the fact that it cannot lead to procreation is accidental to the act itself. Under normal circumstances—i.e., functioning fertility—their act could lead to procreation. On the other hand, the sexual act of a same-sex couple is the kind of act that is never open to procreation; the non-openness to procreation belongs to the very substance and definition of that act."

    "Thus, one can rationally hold that openness to life is intrinsic to marriage without excluding infertile couples from marriage. Infertile heterosexual couples engage in the kind of act that leads to procreation; homosexual couples do not. A marriage comes into being not only though the exchange of the mutual consent of wills—as if we were disembodied spirits—but through conjugal, bodily union as well. A marriage, to properly exist, must be consummated: i.e., include the sexual union of spouses in an act which is open, in principle, to the procreation and education of children."

  8. John Casey says:

    Hi Right Reason,

    I'd ask you please if you're interested in a rational discussion to act like you are.  The principle of non-contradiction has nothing to do with this.  Nor is it obvious that Aristotle was right.  Nor is it obvious that the act of sexual intercourse needs to include by definition reproduction.  For you, so it seems, marriage essentially means x.  That's not the case for every instance of that institution, and certainly not the case for secular instances of it.  Sorry.  That's just a fact.  It is true, however, that those instances are not marriage according to your definition.  Is your definition the correct one?  What is the correct definition of such a thing?  Is Aristotle's conception of natural law, on whatever interpretation you happen to have chosen, the correct method for finding out?  I highly doubt that such a question is uncontroversial, as you have supposed.

    Speaking of reading, I'd recommend that you attend more carefully to JSB's response, as it was directed precisely at that passage you cite from the article in question.


  9. Right Reason says:

    Fail. You lose, John.

  10. Darin says:

    I think this might be a good time to refer to Aristotle's classic of the genre: "De Trollibus."  

  11. Nal says:

    All definitions are, by definition, subjective. An objective definition is an oxymoron. 

  12. John Casey says:

    That escalated quickly.   

  13. David Vessey says:

    SCOTUSblog has a nice discussion (Part II of IV) about possible arguments that can be made before the court against marriage equality:
    It makes the case that "the marriage-children link is still the heart of their argument against same-sex marriage." Worth reading, as are the other three parts.

  14. John Casey says:

    Thanks Dave!  Interesting analysis to be found there.

  15. Right Reason says:

    Nal, just checking: you do realize you just gave an objective definition of the term "definition," right? Guess it is only the "conservatives" who merit correction on their logic in here, huh John?

  16. John Casey says:

    Hi Right Reason,

    I'll let Nal answer for himself.  His point is not on the topic so I'm not going to address it.  Your point isn't either, but I will say that it's a sorry attempt at a tu quoque.  The internet is not really like the Ring of Gyges, we're not really invisible.  So, please, try to be a little more respectful.  

  17. Nal says:

    Right Reason, 
    No, I was pointing out an attribute of definitions. 

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