Ward, you were a little hard on the Beaver last night

There is a new academic paper defending the idea that marriage of the "Leave it to Beaver" variety is a metaphysical fact (and no, I'm not kidding):

Marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together. The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts—acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it.

The paper is at the link.  Here is one critique of the academic variety; here another, slightly less academic, but equally poignant.  I'm not going to bother with the arguments, at this point, because I think that matter has been resolved–however much the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy might disagree.  Well, ok, just one.

Our organs—our heart and stomach, for example—are parts of one body because they are coordinated, along with other parts, for a common biological purpose of the whole: our biological life. It follows that for two individuals to unite organically, and thus bodily, their bodies must be coordinated for some biological purpose of the whole.

That sort of union is impossible in relation to functions such as digestion and circulation, for which the human individual is by nature sufficient. But individual adults are naturally incomplete with respect to one biological function: sexual reproduction.

I suspect questions are massively begged on the idea of "biological purposes"–and I think "organic" uniting is probably different from anything you can get at your Whole Foods.  Whatever their meaning may be, the hilarious part/whole purposes analogy cries out for inclusion in one's Introduction to Logic text.  My liver has a function, ergo, ipso facto you must marry me.

Let's go ahead and suppose that lots of arguments can be dreamt up for Leave it to Beaver marriage.  They're all going to suck, because they presume stuff that just can't be presumed, or they try to establish things as facts that can't be established as facts without the presumptions. 

I wouldn't even consider this an academic argument at this point–one whose outcome matters not.  The outcome of this argument matters a lot.  It's just that we've already seen it.  Does this mean, real question here, that we have duty not to entertain this kind of argumentative detritis?

via Leiter.

10 thoughts on “Ward, you were a little hard on the Beaver last night”

  1. The linked critiques seem to focus on the "organic union" nonsense, but there's more to the paper, such as "How Would Gay Civil Marriage Affect You or Your Marriage", which starts out with the usual slippery slope argument:

    Revisionists often capture this point with a question: “How would gay marriage affect you or your marriage?”29 It is worth noting, first, that this question could be turned back on revisionists who oppose legally recognizing, for example, polyamorous unions: How would doing so affect anyone else’s marriage?

    Ultimately, it turns out that permitting same-sex marriage somehow leads to socialism:

    Because children fare best on most indicators of health and wellbeing when reared by their wedded biological parents,38 the further erosion of marital norms would adversely affect children, forcing the state to play a larger role in their health, education, and formation more generally.

    Unfortunately, they provide no evidence for this claim. And then there's the similarly unsupported assertion, despite its being the concluding sentence in a section which purports to identify how same-sex marriage would harm the reader and his or her marriage, that "adults more generally would be harmed insofar as the weakening of social expectations supporting marriage would make it harder for them to abide by marital norms." How? Would permitting same-sex marriage make it more difficult for me to remain faithful to my wife? Would we suddenly become unable to perform our duty of "organic union" due to the knowledge that somewhere, possibly close by, people might be having sex without the possibility of conceiving a child? Would I somehow be tempted to divorce my wife and marry a man, simply because it is legally possible? Why on earth would this be? There's been same-sex marriage in the United States since 2004, and so far I have found absolutely no difficulty in "abiding by marital norms". They do claim that failing to "reinforce the notion that children need both a mother and a father" would "significantly weaken the extent to which the social institution of marriage provided social pressures and incentives for husbands to remain with their wives and children", but again, they don't explain how or why. My wife and I don't have children (nor do we plan to; I guess we don't have a "real marriage" by their definition). If we did have children, though, how would our desire to remain married and raise them together be in the least diminished? Can the authors really be unaware that nearly three out of every ten households with children in the United States are single-parent households? It doesn't look to me like those "social pressures and incentives" have been doing much good at all. And then, of course, there's the usual odd claim that it threatens their "religious freedom" to be bigots. Why, "[i]n Massachusetts, Catholic Charities was forced to give up its adoption services rather than, against its principles, place children with same‐sex couples"; however, for some reason, they completely fail to mention that Catholic Charities had been placing children with same-sex couples since 1987; the chairman of the Catholic Charities board "said he believes that the agency should welcome same-sex couples to adopt, and not just because of a contractual requirement with DSS" (emphasis mine). Of course, as soon as the Boston Globe printed that article, the four bishops of Massachusetts did ask for an exemption to the antidiscrimination law, despite the fact that the 42 board members of Catholic Charities were unanimously in favor of same-sex adoption. They go on with a few more examples, all of which boil down to the fact that they believe their religious rights are being violated if they're not allowed to publicly condemn others which as much vitriol as they would like. (Is it ironic that they are insisting on the right to violate their own religion's teachings—all that stuff about not judging others, not casting the first stone, taking the beam out of their own eye before complaining about the mote in someone else's, etc.—in order to condemn others for violating their religion's teachings?) Now, as to your question: you ask,

    Does this mean, real question here, that we have duty not to entertain this kind of argumentative detritis?

    As long as people are swayed to support injustice by ridiculously fallacious arguments like these, I think they're worth confronting. As you yourself said, the outcome of this argument matters a lot.

  2. I have no idea why the editor mashed all my paragraphs together like that. Sorry for the wall of text.

  3. JSB–thanks for the comment.  I don't think I put my querry very well.  I'll try to rearticulate it later. 

    excellent analysis of that craptastic argument. 

  4. If the question is about strategy, there is some advantage in answering arguments you find absurd. Sure, you might grant the argument some legitimacy, but it seems it has already been granted some degree of legitimacy. By answering, you may convince those few intelligent people who are on the fence about how they feel about the issue. Plus, even if it's absurd, there is probably something interesting to be said about how the argument is constructed. 

  5. Let me try to put this another way. At OSSA I heard a very interesting paper on whether there is a duty to argue with nothing but truth is at stake–do we have a duty to argue, in other words, when the question is purely an academic one. Putting aside the question as to whether such arguments exist (purely academic ones), I think we might rightly ask whether we have a duty to ignore and dismiss arguments on settled questions, since our arguing them only inspires further trollishness. At bottom, then, it’s a pragmatic question.

  6. Settled among whom? Academics? The list of settled questions among academics must be short. You might be feeding the trolls by answering them, but I think there are few malnourished trolls, as there is always someone around to feed them. Pragmatically, it seems worth answering if you can say something interesting about it. For instance, your quip about "organic" is interesting, and there is probably something to be gained by examining what do people exactly mean when they use that word. I think there is a temptation among many academics to systematically ignore what they feel isn't worth answering, but I have a feeling there is something lost to by not answering and that, like a weed, the question may continue to grow with or without your answer. 

  7. Those are reasonable points.  The inherent superiority of races, for instance, is a settled question.  Settled in favor of the view that none is superior.  People who maintain such views don't really get argued with anymore.  They're just called–rightly so–racists, however pure or academic their intentions might be. 

  8. I'm curious by what measure you consider "the inherent superiority of races" to be a settled question, or that "people who maintain such views don't really get argued with anymore".
    Having lived in the South, and being a participant in numerous discussion sites on the Web, I see no evidence that either statement is actually true; to the contrary, there are still plenty of people who do believe in the inherent superiority of races (strangely, it's always their own which is superior), and they never seem to lack for takers in an argument.
    Or, as Tristan asks, are you speaking only of academics among whom the question is "settled" and rarely argued (Charles Murray notwithstanding)?

  9. Sadly, you're probably right about those contexts.  Maybe you won't see an artcile like that in the Harvard Journal of Public Policy.

  10. I think you should take into account where the argument is being made when deciding whether to feed the troll. If this were posted on Reddit, I wouldn't give it a second thought. But considering the source of this material is the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, it appears to have garnered a certain amount of respectability. I have no idea how well-respected this journal is, but at face value, it sounds reputable. Since I can imagine adherents of its ideas using this source in appeals to authority, it is fully appropriate to discredit the authority.

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