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"the ever-present tendency in all of us to judge morality by emotion"

Deacon Greg has published a piece noting the firing of a University of Ilinois professor who dared speak against homosexuality and who did so from a perspective of Catholic teaching.  The Deacon focuses on the backdrop to the story and it's compelling and interesting.

More interesting is the email written by the professor to his students that reportedly led to the firing:

From: Kenneth J. Howell

Date: Tue, May 4, 2010 at 9:45 PM

Subject: Utilitarianism and Sexuality (for those in 447 FYI)

Dear Students:

Since there is a question on the final exam about utilitarianism (see the review sheet), I thought I would help with an example. I realized after my lectures on moral theory that even though I talked about the substance of utilitarianism, I did not identify it as such and so you may not have been able to see it.

It turns out that our discussion of homosexuality brings up the issue of utilitarianism. In class, our discussion of the morality of homosexual acts was very incomplete because any moral issue about which people disagree ALWAYS raises a more fundamental issue about criteria. In other words, by what criteria should we judge whether a given act is right or wrong?

Before looking at the issue of criteria, however, we have to remind ourselves of the ever-present tendency in all of us to judge morality by emotion. The most frequent reason I hear people supporting same-sex marriage is that they know some gay couples or individuals. Empathy is a noble human quality but right or wrong does not depend on who is doing the action or on how I feel about those people, just as judging an action wrong should not depend on disliking someone. This might seem obvious to a right thinking person but I have encountered many well-educated people who do not (or cannot?) make the distinction between persons and acts when engaging moral reasoning. I encourage you to read the final essay editorial I sent earlier to reflect on this. In short, to judge an action wrong is not to condemn a person. A person and his/her acts can be distinguished for the purposes of morality.

So, then, by what criterion should we judge whether sexual acts are right or wrong? This is where utilitarianism comes in. Utilitarianism in the popular sense is fundamentally a moral theory that judges right or wrong by its practical outcomes. It is somewhat akin to a cost/benefit analysis. So, when a woman is deciding whether it's right to have an abortion, the utilitarian says it's right or wrong based on what the best outcome is. Similarly, a man who is trying to decide whether he should cheat on his wife, if he is a utilitarian, will weigh the various consequences. If the cheating side of the ledger is better, he will conclude that it's okay to cheat. If the faithful side is better, he will refrain from cheating.

I think it's fair to say that many, maybe most Americans employ some type of utilitarianism in their moral decision making. But there are at least two problems. One is that to judge the best outcome can be very subjective. What may be judged good for the pregnant woman may not be good for the baby. What may be judged good for the about-to-cheat-husband may not good for his wife or his children. This problem of subjectivity is inherent in utilitarianism for a second reason. Utilitarianism counsels that moral decisions should NOT be based on the inherent meaning of acts. Acts are only good or bad relative to outcomes. The natural law theory that I expounded in class assumes that human acts have an inherent meaning (remember my fist vs. extended hand of friendship example).

One of the most common applications of utilitarianism to sexual morality is the criterion of mutual consent. It is said that any sexual act is okay if the two or more people involved agree. Now no one can (or should) deny that for a sexual act to be moral there must be consent. Certainly, this is one reason why rape is morally wrong. But the question is whether this is enough.

If two men consent to engage in sexual acts, according to utilitarianism, such an act would be morally okay. But notice too that if a ten year old agrees to a sexual act with a 40 year old, such an act would also be moral if even it is illegal under the current law. Notice too that our concern is with morality, not law. So by the consent criterion, we would have to admit certain cases as moral which we presently would not approve of. The case of the 10 and 40 year olds might be excluded by adding a modification like "informed consent." Then as long as both parties agree with sufficient knowledge, the act would be morally okay. A little reflection would show, I think, that "informed consent" might be more difficult to apply in practice than in theory. But another problem would be where to draw the line between moral and immoral acts using only informed consent. For example, if a dog consents to engage in a sexual act with its human master, such an act would also be moral according to the consent criterion. If this impresses you as far-fetched, the point is not whether it might occur but by what criterion we could say that it is wrong.

There's more and you should read every word.  Then ponder where it is that we are as a society.  Ponder the fact that critical thinking steeped in Natural Law has led to a professor being fired and worse, being shunned, by those who think not but who instead emote.

Then think about the incompetence of those who lead us today.

There is a connection.


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Comments (48)

Excellent post. we have lon... (Below threshold)
Don L:

Excellent post. we have long ago turned from what we all know to be right - to that of "what we do or wish to do" is always right. Relative morality,is the culprit. Emotion is but the weapon of choice.

Chesterton, early in the last century predicted that we are entering a period of "feeling" as arbiter of all things. Does that explain liberalism-or what?

I am a bit of a utilitarian... (Below threshold)

I am a bit of a utilitarian myself, and I disagree with his pedophilic example. The benefit to the adult is obvious (he gets what he wants), but to the child, the advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages. Further, the child simply is not in a position to make such a hefty decision as to consent at that point.

Utilitarianism, like all moral philosophies, is presumed upon it being embraced by a rational, reasoning, mature human being. One can educate and inculcate a child into a philosophy, but they simply lack the maturity and experience and knowledge to make informed choices.

I think I remember this case when it first came out. The father was asked what the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality was. He answered, giving the theological and philosophical underpinnings behind it, and was disciplined for that.

I'm an open supporter of gay rights, and I'm no great friend of the Catholic Church, but that chafed me. I don't agree with the Church's position, but he answered honestly, accurately, and forthrightly. He didn't demand agreement, didn't punish dissent, just laid out the Church's stance and how it got there.


Once upon a time, a "libera... (Below threshold)

Once upon a time, a "liberal" education was centered around dialog between students and teachers who presented them with differing points of view, encouraging them to think independently and be respectful of those with whom they disagreed.

Now, thanks to the domination of academia by leftist thought, and the eagerness of leftist thought police to eliminate opposing points of view via the bludgeon of political correctness, those days are long gone.

Notice that the anonymous s... (Below threshold)

Notice that the anonymous student complaint focused specifically on this email. I dare anyone to show where there is any Hate Speech of any kind.

Just because a person hates what is written or said doesn't make that Hate Speech.

The leftists have pretty mu... (Below threshold)

The leftists have pretty much run amok in academia. The Thought Police are everywhere. The Left worships diversity - as long as it agrees with their own preconceived notions of right and wrong. And these so-called intelligentsia look confused when you point out their hypocrisy.

I read the whole thing twic... (Below threshold)
Brian The Adequate:

I read the whole thing twice, and while I disagree with some of the points it is a well defended academic argument. If anything a professor of Philosophy should be commended for providing his students such a well thought out and readable follow up to a class discussion.

I weep for our future if this is considered grounds for dismissal.

This seems like a lawsuit i... (Below threshold)

This seems like a lawsuit in the making. I hope the professor sues the university, and wins big time.

I did a little more reading... (Below threshold)
James H:

I did a little more reading on this. As I understand it, he was dismissed because a student considered this rather long email hate speech. PZ Myers says, in a backhanded way, that the letter was not hate speech. I agree with that conclusion, though I disagree with the idea that Professor Howell should have been fired.

First off, if a student truly disliked this email, the proper response was not to go whining to the authorities, but rather to fire off a repsonse email that attacked natural law, defended utilitarianism, or demonstrated that natural law in fact permitted the sorts of behavior that Prof. Howell deplores.

I think the analogies to pedophilia and bestiality may have upset the student, but context is important. If a clearly bigoted person raises pedophilia and bestiality in a nonacademic setting, it is clear that person is merely trying to offend. But an academic situation is a bit different. In an academic situation, one raises these kinds of hypotheticals in order to test ideas and refine them.

Finally, I would note that Prof. Howell was an adjunct professor, meaning that the university could refuse to renew his contract for any reason. Technically he would not have been "fired" so much as "not have this contract renewed." Though this does seem an inordinately stupid reason to dismiss him, and those kind of technical defenses are availed only when an act cannot be defended morally.

Nothing wrong with gays doi... (Below threshold)

Nothing wrong with gays doing what they want. Just don't flaunt it and push it in my face and tell my kids that it is moral, good and normal.

Don't call me a bigot either because I don't happen to agree with the premise that using an alimentary canal for releasing the 2nd Chakra is normal too.

"Nothing wrong with gays do... (Below threshold)

"Nothing wrong with gays doing what they want. Just don't flaunt it and push it in my face and tell my kids that it is moral, good and normal." So there's nothing wrong with it, but it isn't moral. TexBob, you're worse at this moral reasoning game than the adjunct who lost his job for being stupid.

I studied moral philosophy for five years and not one of my professors subscribed to utilitarianism because it fails to account for the richness of moral reasoning. (I'm not going to explain why. Go read Moral Luck by Bernard Williams if you're interested.) Every single one of them subscribed to some form of Kantian or Aristotelian moral reasoning. And not one of them--not even the Catholics who taught Medieval & Early Modern Thought, i.e. Aquinas and Anselm--would have been so stupid as to speak ill of homosexuality in a 21st century university classroom. This asshole was fired for the same reason that a philosophy professor would be fired for insisting that it's wrong for people of separate races to marry. (The Natural Law "argument" was used to defend that position until its proponents either died or were shamed and marginalized into obscurity.)

This guy's lousy strawman argument--"Most people think homosexuality is okay because they know gays and the gays seem like decent folk"--would produce a failing grade on a first year philosophy paper. That isn't why people are fine with homosexuality--they're fine with it because there is no good reason not to be fine with it. So please do defend his freedom to have his opinion, rationally indefensible though it may be, but don't act as though he's entitled to an academic job when he's a disgrace to his discipline. Would you defend the right of a Creationist to teach Evolutionary Biology?

Wait a minute, Hyper. I th... (Below threshold)
James H:

Wait a minute, Hyper. I thought this professor took a short-sighted approach to utilitarianism. But I have to ask about your post ... isn't rule utilitarianism functionally equivalent to Kant's categorical imperatives?

I interacted with only a couple philosophy professors in undergrad. I noticed that they tended to be consequentialists of various stripes ...

But this wasn't a philosoph... (Below threshold)

But this wasn't a philosophy class...

Hyper, what two consenting ... (Below threshold)

Hyper, what two consenting adults do behind closed doors is none of my business.

I also agree that the profession is entitled to his opinion as am I. The problem in this PC world, is that if you disagree with a premise put forward by a leftist, militant, racist, or homosexual person, you are automatically labeled a bigot and targeted.

If people would make it their business to mind their own business instead of forcing it on others, life would be much better.

Rule utilitarianism is back... (Below threshold)

Rule utilitarianism is back-door Kantianism. If you're indexing your outcome-based moral reasoning to an underlying set of principles then it's the set of principles that ultimately matters, not the outcomes. And anyway no Kantian philosopher--not even Kant--has ever argued that consequences never matter.

A defensible moral philosophy has to account for the entirety of our moral psychology. Bernard Williams' example of Pedro the Paramilitary, taken from the "Against" component of Utilitarianism: For and Against shows that certain moral dilemmas are too complex and tug at too many features of our moral existence as to be reduced to a crass cost-benefit analysis. The example is basically this: when a ruthless paramilitary officer asks you if you would kill one Peruvian villager to prevent him from killing a dozen, the utilitarian is committed to the view that killing this one person is the right thing to do. In reality, though, it isn't, and neither is the alternative. Ethically we might agree that it is, but morally there is much more going on at a psychological level, i.e. that which pertains to our character and integrity: we are not the sort of creatures that congratulate ourselves for doing the right thing after murdering one innocent person to save the lives of many. We often are forced to make these decisions but it's a feature of our moral lives that we sometimes face dilemmas with no happy outcome.

There are still utilitarian scholars, to be sure; probably the most prominent one still living is Wayne Sumner, former Chair and Professor Emeritus at U. of Toronto. Before him was J.J.C. Smart. However, their contemporaries including Williams (deceased), Joseph Raz, Rawls (deceased) etc. have much larger followings within moral and political philosophy (in fact there are zero utilitarian political philosophers that I can think of right now) and that probably reflects the general philosophical paradigm that better ideas tend to fare better in the context of academic rigour. (Hence the death of Natural Law in the context of serious academia.)

To the leftist there can be... (Below threshold)

To the leftist there can be no higher outrage than the idea that there are explicable reasons behind religious teaching.

Well, Hyper, let me offer a... (Below threshold)
James H:

Well, Hyper, let me offer a counterpoint to the logical arguments.

I'm not a scholar in the field (nto even a dilettante, truth to be told), but I as I understand it, there have been some studies into brain cells, our hard wiring if you will, as to the source of our moral decisions. One emerging view is that this hard wiring actually controls many of our ethical choices -- to save one's own child vs. to save a stranger, for example -- and actually outweighs all the intellectual pondering that has grown up around the system of ethics.

So, for example, one steps up to save the child not because one makes a conscious or unconscious weighing of utilitarian principles or categorical imperatives, but because one biologically compelled to rescue that child, particularly if the child is of one's own family.

Does this argue in favor of a natural law approach to ethics?

Further (and this is a side note), I imagine that CS Lewis would argue that this ingrained "moral sense" as it were is the manifestation of the voice of God telling us what is right and wrong.

PS. My brain hurts. ... (Below threshold)
James H:

PS. My brain hurts.

TexBob, I hope you feel the... (Below threshold)

TexBob, I hope you feel the same way about heterosexuals "forcing" their "lifestyle" on straight people?

Look, not one of my gay/lesbian/bi friends--and I have lots! I live in a cosmopolitan and hang out with artists!--proselytizes their sexual preference. You and your wife/girlfriend holding hands in public or stealing a smooch in a restaurant isn't any more or less distasteful than people of the same sex doing the same thing. I get that you don't dislike LGBT people but to put that into action you need to extend the same sort of laissez-faire tolerance to them that you probably do to other straight people because they're equal in every way.

goddess, this person is not qualified to teach philosophy because he doesn't understand it; and so, he isn't qualified to teach philosophy in a Catholic Studies classroom either. Having stepped out of the realm of spooky religious metaphysics (the jurisdiction of theological studies) into the arena of rational debate (philosophy) means he can no longer fall back on "But it's my faith!" as anything resembling a reasoned defense of one's opinion. It's certainly justified--it's just not much of an argument.

James, that makes perfect s... (Below threshold)

James, that makes perfect sense as our minds are by-products of our biological functioning and so it stands to reason that we should be hardwired to feel a psychological urge to care more for those closest to us (our family, fellow members of the same nationality, whatever) than those further away. That's not a defense of natural law: that's an explanation as to how evolutionary science underpins some of our moral psychology, and it's difficult to imagine how it could be otherwise insofar as we've managed to survive as a species for this long.

Natural Law implies a spooky metaphysical view of morality: that there is a right way to live our lives and it's written upon the fabric of the universe by something that exists beyond the realm of our understanding. Two obvious criticisms: 1) there is no way to test or verify this hypothesis without testing it against some set of moral principlies for its validity--in effect, begging the question; and 2) as Socrates pointed out, this presents the problem: is it right to help the poor because God says so, or does God order us to help the poor because it is right independent of the will of God? It must be the latter. If it were the former, then if God commanded us to murder one another and sell each other into slavery (and He does! It's in the Bible, right?) then we would be right to do these things. Since we know that these things are wrong, and all religious people pick and choose which of God's edicts to take seriously, then it is necessarily the case that right and wrong are not written upon the fabric of the universe, but in fact are moral concepts that we apply with our own rational minds based on past experiences, our shared evolutionary history, and the threads that hold our civilization together.

CS Lewis said a lot of interesting things. You can call the moral imperatives that drive our everyday interactions with one another to be the "voice of God" if it gets you through your day but that's extraneous as to what's actually going on at a psychological level, given the fact that atheists are no more or less capable of navigating moral problems than are theists (and often are free of certain burdensome superstitions that present themselves as practical obstacles).

Hyper,I don't object... (Below threshold)

I don't object to any one holding hands, or a peck on the cheek, but as the displays of affection/attraction escalate I don't care to see it from anyone.
Groping, hands down trousers/skirts/shirts etc are something the rest of us don't need to be exposed to regardless of the number or demographics of the participants.

Now, if the average Pride Parade, for example, was limited to mostly hand holding, hugging etc (a few firm steps beyond Platonic) I don't think people would call that "in their face" or "shoving it down my throat".
Sadly, that is not what is celebrated at many a Pride Parade. When the calls for acceptance include demands for accepting, for example chaps without pants/underwear or leashes on human beings, that is hard for mainstream society to get behind.
If it were straight people it would be little, if any different.

It's pretty hard to get beh... (Below threshold)

It's pretty hard to get behind a 'Gay Pride' parade when what you see would normally fall into a deviant category. (Just Google for images, gay pride parade, San Fransisco). Even the gay guy next door made comment about "What they're doing is nothing to be proud of."

Garand, SCSI:Your ... (Below threshold)
James H:

Garand, SCSI:

Your comments remind me of something I read once about a gay man who was puzzled at the phrase "gay lifestyle." Basically, his friends assumed the "gay lifestyle" involved multiple partners, lots of showing off, etc., etc. And he realized that what his friends envisioned was essentially the stereotypical bachelor's lifestyle, but substituting men for women.

His lifestyle, in turn, more or less involved ... dating guys.

Hyper:You hit, ver... (Below threshold)
James H:


You hit, very briefly, one of the the primary reasions that I choos atheism over religion. If you look at the behavior of the Christian god, that god's behavior, recounted in the Bible and exhibited in the modern world, is immoral by its own terms, without even getting to the more often propounded question of why an omnipotent, supposedly good god allows evil to exist in the world.

But getting back to the theory of natural law. It seems to me that one can deduce the so-called natural law without recourse to a burning bush or tablets handed down from the heavens. Rather, I would think that by studying the behaviors that come naturally to us as a species and to certain other species, we can see that certain actions are moral because they work well, promote some good greate than the individual, and promote a cooperative society.

Whether these so-called natural laws originate with a supernatural figure or from our own genetic code is irrelevant, I would argue. Rather they are there, and we can see the positive aspects of them.

The gay people I know are n... (Below threshold)

The gay people I know are not huge fans of Pride weekend here in Toronto because it's tacky and tasteless and gives the impression that if they were permitted to do so every weekend, no homos would ever wear pants in public. And I don't disagree. I think there should be a day commemorating some milestone in gay rights, as there is for women's rights etc., but I'm not sure why people fly here from Europe and South America and Japan for Pride Weekend. Though I do get a kick out of the Dykes on Bikes (like a hundred tough-looking ladies on choppers).

James, it's natural ... (Below threshold)

James, it's natural for us to get along. If it weren't, we wouldn't exist as a species. I think what you've described is a scientifically and rationally defensible conception of how it is we go about our daily lives without killing each other--and that, I think, should be the limits of our theoretical aspirations with regards to our moral lives (from a philosophical standpoint--leave the rest to practical ethicists, judges, and politicians). But Natural Law is a particular viewpoint that posits the existence of rules that exist independent of our ability to grasp them, and we discern these rules through a rational examination of certain texts that are held to be beyond reproach by virtue of who (or "what") authored them.

And not one of the... (Below threshold)
And not one of them--not even the Catholics who taught Medieval & Early Modern Thought, i.e. Aquinas and Anselm--would have been so stupid as to speak ill of homosexuality in a 21st century university classroom.
Because, as we all know, human behavior is beyond reproach. It would seem, far from your professors being smart, they either all drank from the academic Koolaid, they were cowards, or they simply lacked the appropriate opportunity.
So please do defend his freedom to have his opinion, rationally indefensible though it may be, but don't act as though he's entitled to an academic job when he's a disgrace to his discipline. Would you defend the right of a Creationist to teach Evolutionary Biology?
Well this is a Catholic professor teaching Catholic moral doctrine. So I can only assume that you did very poorly on the logic portions of the SAT test. Now, the professor that taught my class Catholic moral thought, who relayed his fantasies of necrophilia to the class on a weekly basis, that's like a Creationist teaching evolutionary biology.
Sometimes I miss the concep... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Sometimes I miss the concept of the Greek academies.

Imagine openly discussing whether the world might be better off if Hitler had won World War 2, or the Confederacy won the US Civil War. Sounds outrageous? The problem for me, is that many of us accept the value we hold without challenging them, without once testing them to see if they really hold up under scrutiny. The ancient Greeks discussed all kinds of things that were offensive to a lot of people, in order to sort out whether the ideas themselves were valid. As a consequence, while dictators continued to rule in certain towns and places, as a whole most Greeks understod not only that democracy was preferable to totalitarian government, they understood why.

From where I sit, the problem is that we don't discuss things using reason and logic, we don't require anyone to defend their ideals even in theory. Where in times past it was assumed that the model of past taboos was right and could not be challenged, nowadays it is presumed that no individual may be restrained if he happens to pursue an interest that enjoys the support of influential celebrities.

Consider the students; these young people are, if they are anything like the young people I have known and used to be myself, very curious about sex and intimacy, yet also concerned about the moral imperatives they grew up with and in many cases were born with. It makes perfect sense to examine questions of sexual behavior and decisions on action from an ethical perspective. It's sadly telling that the person who disagreed with the professor never refuted the professor's argument, never built his own case, but instead persued a personal legal attack. In so doing, he at one stroke undercut the virtue of open discussion and attacked an advocate of true education.

DJ:If we're talkin... (Below threshold)
James H:


If we're talking about the ethics of sex and relationships, I'd say that dredging up the pedophilia and bestiality hypotheticals confuses what should be priorities.

A better hypo this prof raised, IMO, is the cheating. Why shouldn't a man cheat on his wife?

I can think of a number of reasons involving honoring one's promises, the duties that one owes to one's spouse, and the harm that one can cause others by cheating on a spouse ... all of which gets obscured if you start talking about sexual orientation.

It may be a bit too consequentialist or utilitarian for Hyper's tastes, but I'd start off with an analysis of harms that comes about from that kind of act.

To finish the thought:... (Below threshold)
James H:

To finish the thought:

... the analysis of harms to others is IMO, a more important question than sorting out which set of naughty bits is allowed to touch another set of naughty bits.

DJ: <a href="http://althis... (Below threshold)
James H:

DJ: This link is for you.

Heh, if I had the time, Jam... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Heh, if I had the time, James, I'd bring up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, but it's month end and I have more to do than I like to think about.

Hyper:I'm gonna le... (Below threshold)
James H:


I'm gonna lead somewhere fairly specific with this, though, and I think this forms the capstone to what I'm trying to argue:

Natural law. It seems tot me that natural law -- or instinctual law -- does not necessarily need to be written in the fabric of the universe by a god. Rather, it can consist simply of survival techniques and behaviors that came about through natural evolution. Reciprocal altruism, for example. Or putting a group's needs ahead of one's own. The herd instinct, if you will. I tend to reject Lewis's "voice of god" supposition chiefly because I disagree with him on the technical point of the existence of god. But there is something to be said, I think, for the theory that certain perecepts in the bounds of our biology, rather than in the esoteric realm of philosophy.

Moral reasoning. I am beginning to agree with the evolutionary psychology approach to morality. That is, that much of our morality derives not from logic or reasoning, but rather from an intuitive sense of right and wrong that originates with our biology. The moral theories we propound -- utilitarianism, categorical imperatives, and so forth -- obscure the fact that for many situations, morals are a matter of instinct rather than a matter of logical deduction.

Hyperbolist, you have an advantage over me in this argument. You have clearly studied moral philosophy with some vigor, while I have merely studied the law and have a former liberal-arts student's passing familiarity with moral theories.

That said, I think you display bias in your assessment of Professor Howell. In particular, your comment regarding "spooky metaphysical studies" implies that you dismiss much of theologically based moral reasoning without admitting there might be something of value to be gained from that realm.

DJ, what if the issue was r... (Below threshold)

DJ, what if the issue was racial co-mingling rather than homosexuality? If a professor tried to explain to a student why a black man should not be allowed to sleep with a white woman, and then supported his/her assertion with a coherent recounting of Natural Law, would that be alright? I don't think someone should be subject to legal punishment as this person is, and in that much I agree that this entire episode is idiotic. I do, however, feel that someone who holds the belief that a category of person is inferior by virtue of the type of person they are (leaving aside the nonsensical distinction between the person themselves and their "mere" actions--as though anything could be more indicative of our character than our actions!) is intellectually and morally unfit to work as a university instructor. Just as we do not revisit in the classroom the possibility that the Earth is flat; that the world is 10,000 years old; that maybe, just maybe the Jews have always had it coming, neither should we reward with plum salaries those who believe that homosexuality is an affront to all that is right and good in the universe.

James: I totally agree with the notion that we are instinctively hardwired to do right by one another, all things being equal, but it doesn't acknowledge the extent to which our values are in some ways contingent upon social forces. You aren't going to get the entire picture of right and wrong by deferring to how we behave at the most primal level, but it's certainly a good way of understanding our most fundamental moral truths; i.e., that it sucks to harm one another, and we should do as little of it as possible. We won't arrive at certain other moral truths, though, such as the equality of races or of genders or the importance of having a legal age of consent, without a more rigorous conversation that extends beyond the vocabulary of evolutionary biology.

And James, I certainly wouldn't want anyone to think that we do have anything to gain from a religious understanding of what it means to be decent humans. Of course I recognize that most religious people are good people but I wouldn't want to disparage them by suggesting if they had grown up without spirituality they would somehow be of worse character. Aristotle pretty much nailed down what it means to be a virtuous person without reference to the Gods, and I don't think that any religious conception of the good life has added anything of substance to his conception of the good (virtuous) life. Aquinas reconciled Aristotle's philosophy with Christian theology but that was (in my opinion) superfluous unless you're a medieval thinker who is politically or morally compelled to relate every bit of his or her own philosophical inquiry to the (brutally) dominant theology of that day and age. Now personally I don't care if people are nice to each other because they accept that that's the best way to live, or if they do so out of fear of divine retribution, but there is no reason to posit the necessity of spirituality as a component of the good life if we accept that people can arrive at fundamental moral truths by simply thinking about their own lives, goals, and preferences, and then taking into account how these values and pursuits impact the values and pursuits of others (i.e. the Golden Rule) when choosing how to act.

It's been years since I've studied this stuff but it's still fun to talk about it. You're holding your own just fine, and I apologize for having resorted to too-technical language wherever that may have been the case.

Hyper and James, you are mi... (Below threshold)

Hyper and James, you are missing a really important factor in your reasoning. There are many, many scholars who posses a deep and profound faith in GOD and/or Jesus Christ. They embrace the reasoning thought and respect it until it runs up against a principle of God's teachings, then prayer should ensue. I am talking faith now, not religion. Religions are based on groups of men/woman creating their "way" of believing.

I am told, commanded, advised by my God to treat my neighbor like I treat myself and to love God with my whole heart and soul. (Spirit and mind) Sometimes the two conflict but the heart takes the lead.

Like TexBob stated, you cannot go against the "pro homosexuality" PC world without being branded a hater, bigot, etc. But there are a significant number of faithful believers that do think homosexuality is a depraved, deviant lifestyle. On the one hand, I have many friends some of which are gay. Just like any walking human, I love and respect them and pray for them as I hope they and others pray for me. So when a secular society tries to legislate my deep faith and beliefs, I find that offensive.

To sum up: I know homosexual behavior is a deviant lifestyle, but I do not hate them for it. I pray for their souls. On the other hand, I do not want anyone to force me to believe and accept their lifestyle. ww

James H,That's the p... (Below threshold)

James H,
That's the point! The vast majority of gay men and women I know would blend into any crowd across the US, Canada, Australia and most of Europe. OK, not the crew-cut, wolverine booted, flannel clad lesbians, unless they are blending in with lumberjacks in the Pacific rain forests... And I don't mean there's anything wrong with their dress, but you don't need gaydar to spot them :)

But the public face of the gay movement? Pride parades. My employer asked us to attend the recent Pride parade in Philadelphia. I would have loved to show support for gay equality, but it's hard to show support for that when the event is dominated by the more extreme element. Heck, you can't even visit the Pride organization's website at the office because the number of NSFW photos trip the net-nanny filters the legal and HR departments insisted IT install! And if you attend and avoid the freak parade contingent, you'll be attacked as a homophobic bigot that hates all gays.

IMO, if gay America wants to be accepted as normal by the rest of America, they need to get freakshow element to reign it in, make it clear that this is not the norm among gays any more than public drunkenness is for the Irish or mafia membership for the Italians. They don't need to hate them or attack them, just make it clear there is time and a place be crazy and wild.
And yes, I have similar beefs about St Patrick's day... except that more than just the Irish take the drinking that day too far...

WW:If you're going... (Below threshold)
James H:


If you're going to cite to a deity as moral authority, I think Hyper's question upstream becomes relevant: Should one obey commandments like the golden rule and the nonsectarian commandments (don't kill, don't steal, etc.) because they were set down by a deity or because they are proper, moral behavior regardless of whether those precepts carry divine imprimatur?

SCSI:I don't care ... (Below threshold)
James H:


I don't care for the various public displays of affection myself. I find them to be tiresome pleas for attention, whether the various participants are male, female, or whatever. If I'm looking at pride parades or similar events, my personal test for assessing such things is simple. How would I feel about a heterosexual doing the same thing? I find it's a pretty good lodestar.

If you're marching in a pride parade waving rainbow flags and carrying a banner that says "Gay Pride," who am I to judge? It's no different somebody painting himself green and marching in the St. Paddy's Day parade.

Thing is, though, SCSI, some people still face harsh judgment for activity that would be considered perfectly ordinary if a heterosexual couple were to indulge. I'm thinking in particular of the reception Constance McMillen got in Mississippi when she wanted to take her girlfriend to prom. She wasn't trying to turn other people gay or anything like that. Just bring girlfriend to prom.

And ... the school system said no and a nasty little brouhaha ensued. I don't see how she was trying to shove anything down anybody's throat. She just wanted a good prom night with her girlfriend, and people couldn't stand to have one pair of lesbians mixing in with the rest of the students minding their own business.

I wish somebody could explain to me how this was shoving their lifestyle in people's faces ...

Unlike some faithful people... (Below threshold)

Unlike some faithful people, I do not confess to haveing "heard from God" directly. I can only go by what is written and believed. Faith is just that. I have faith that God, through his word and by prayer will keep me on the right path for success, health, etc. The trinity of Spirit, soul and body have to be nurtured and taken care of equally.

So, living here in the USA, it is easy to be for profane rap music, scantily clad men and women in advertising, sexual inuendo at every turn and televisions portrayal of fathers as buffoons, etc. It is hard to remain faithful when someone is constantly being bombarded with opinions and displays that come against a persons belief system but most of the faithful do make it. But in a lot of Christian countries, the constant attack on Christian moral's is less so. A young person today finds it easy to state they are pro homosexual marraige, but then it is through knowledge and study for those that seek God that we find different. ww

WW:You didn't answ... (Below threshold)
James H:


You didn't answer my question. Should one follow the precepts laid down in holy books because they are laid down by a deity or because they have some independent moral value?

James H,I think our ... (Below threshold)

James H,
I think our standard on this is pretty close ;)
Constance McMillen... that was some full force bull. If I recall, they ended up cancelling the entire prom rather than give the appearance that they approved of same sex couples...
Set standards about dress and behavior, enforce them evenly. Spiking the punch bowl held more danger to the prom goers than a pair of possible lesbians.
If this was a private religious school from a faith that had issues with homosexuality, I'd be a little more supportive of the school... I'd still disagree with their opinion but they would have a right to that position that is stronger than a public school district.

Morality how we judge right... (Below threshold)

Morality how we judge right and wrong has many factors. Society, religion and philosophy all play a role. We do not all have ascribe to one set of moral precepts which is why their is always debate on subjects.
The problem today is that in many corners people seek to eliminate debate.

Homosexuality is not new nor is the debate on its value to society.

In Sparta where homosexuality was accepted and encouraged gay marriage was not allowed so were Spartans homophobes?

Sparata also believe that if men loved their fellow soldiers that they would fight better. It was the outcome of wining wars that led them to system of pedophile to encourage homosexuality in their military ranks. They also practice elimination of children born with defects( eugenics). Since they needed warriors they needed heterosexual relationships. So a society based on a certain stricture of out comes can in fact have a moral code that both support homosexuality, heterosexuality and pedophile as good moral practices.

The Bible in the old Testament took a very different view, than that of the Greeks or Romans.
Islam takes a very negative view also.

Another aspect of this is Bi-sexualty. Many gay groups do not accept Bi-sexualsm in fact they state their is no such thing.
So in a class where morality and religion is being taught there should be an open discussion.

Willie, I guess I have a ha... (Below threshold)

Willie, I guess I have a harder time than you separating a person from their actions in a moral sense. You can somehow say that homosexual actions are wrong, but homosexuals are not inherently evil people; but would you admit that someone who commits genocide is an evil person, for committing that evil action? I don't see the distinction. Evil actions belie an evil character in most cases and I don't get why you would give gay people a pass, unless you're trying to reconcile your modern and commendable tolerance of gay people with a set of religious beliefs that aren't compatible therewith. Committing genocide makes you genocidal; committing a homosexual act makes you homosexual. If both actions are wrong, then why aren't both sorts of people evil?

James, SCSI, Constance is an excellent example. If Constance was shoving her lesbianism in everyone's faces (such a hilarious thing to type!) by trying to bring her girlfriend to a prom, then why is it alright for people to shove heterosexuality in the faces of LGBT kids when we know that a significant percentage of kids are in fact LGBT and straight kids make out at proms? Seems to me that a prom is as good a place as any for a young adult to accept the fact that some girls make out with girls, and some boys make out with boys; and the right thing to do--just ignoring this sort of thing and having a good time with your sexy prom date--is not an invitation for hellfire and damnation.

hcddbz, you raise a good point: lots of bisexual people are shunned by gays and lesbians, for the same reason that Derek Jeter was scorned by radical African-American activists for being a race traitor for dating a white woman. (That's when I learned that Derek Jeter is a black dude--who knew? I thought he was Puerto Rican or something, given his athleticism in the infield. Am I right?! Am I right?!) Let's leave aside Sparta, which was a doomed society due to its system of property inheritance. (Only Spartan warriors got to own land and vote and warriors were always campaigning. Hence, the land-owning class dwindled pretty friggin' quickly.) Consider the Greeks: they literally believed that romantic relationships between men and boys were the key to well-educated boys, while women were relegated to running the households and controlling all the money. This is obvious if one reads Plato's Symposium, which is only like 60 pages and a pretty fun little book, totally devoid of graphic sexual content and pretty heavy on Grecian creation myths. Now the Christian churches, Western democracy, and (I would argue) professional sports leagues find their roots in this Greek system of "knowledge", which has an obvious thread of homosexual carnality to it. That's not to say that we all participate in some homoerotic rituals by voting or teaching our kids to catch footballs or baptizing our children; it is just to say that without societal ordinances that encouraged homosexuality that were prevalent throughout the formative years of our civilization, our democracies and libraries and universities and armies and navies and families would be a hell of a lot different than they are today. And no, I'm not suggesting that everybody used to be gay, but some of them did have to fake it--while I'm not familiar with any of the supporting evidence, I have heard on good authory that Aristotle*--the most intelligent person whose work still exists--was a closeted family man who secretly loved his wife. Score one for the heteros! :)

*Wasn't actually Greek, though. Dude was Thessalonian.

Re: "Shove in somebody's f... (Below threshold)
James H:

Re: "Shove in somebody's face."

Seems to me that's not a matter of ethics or morals, but of manners.

Hyper,Using Sparta... (Below threshold)


Using Sparta was to point to the fact that a society can create an ethical code that both supports and encourages homosexuality and pedophile at the same time if they decide that the outcome (strong military ) is what they need. This i an historical fact so to state that some can not bring the two up in a letter it to ignore reality and operate strictly on emotion.

Even today you have the man boy love association, which is homosexual group which advocated pedophile.
Now does that make all homosexuals pedophiles? No.
However it does show that someone can take a view point of outcomes and justify it.

The reason why many organization Gay lesbian Transgendered organization don't like Bi-sexual is because they want the sympathy vote.
it hard for them to say hay we were born this way, if you have a group of people who say we choice to have sex with both men and women.
So their desired outcome of Gay rights is threaten by that group , so it becomes an imperative to remove or reject them in the same way that straights reject gays.
"you can be born Bi-sexual"
You can look at the Gay softball tournament where Bi-sexuals were not allowed.

We spent time on Homosexual. Heterosexual can also use the same outcome based ideas. In order to maximize the number children born women were married at 13 years of age in many societies.

Faith, morality , ethics, religion each has many facets and we should be able to actually have a full and honest debate. Otherwise it just their is no point.

But Sparta didn't do very w... (Below threshold)

But Sparta didn't do very well, did it. Their society dissolved because they couldn't sustain their economic model of only warriors get to be full citizens, when the warriors didn't live very long.

And lots--probably all--of civilizations and societies have justified terrible actions because of some desired outcome, i.e. slavery, child labour, wars of conquest, religious persecution, etc.. But we know now that we can't do these sort of things regardless of what the outcome might be. And I value the input of religious people into debates as to what should and should not be permitted, so long as the debate is conducted in terms that everyone can agree to--i.e., not on the grounds of a particular religion but in something more universal, such as intrinsic human rights.

I don't think I disagree with anything you've said there so we can leave this discussion as is. Nice chatting. :)

Hyper,... (Below threshold)


Hyper, Last I check... (Below threshold)

Last I checked all of the Greek states failed. Conquered by Rome...
Sparta was an independent power that even Alexander the Great avoided from the 10th century BC until the Achaean league absorbed them in the second century BC. Even after that they remained a political and military force in the region well into the Byzantine empire's domination of the area.
800 years is a pretty long run for such a "flawed" society... but compared to the other societies in the region at the time, they had a lot going for them.

Hyper,An... (Below threshold)


And I value the input of religious people into debates as to what should and should not be permitted, so long as the debate is conducted in terms that everyone can agree to--i.e., not on the grounds of a particular religion but in something more universal, such as intrinsic human rights.

The history and evolution of any moral thought must be looked at in it's entirety. Man perception colors his observations and therefore we cannot all agree to anything and have a debate. It the opposition of thoughts, values and moral code that leads to a real debate. If we all agree to before hand we have an echo chamber not a debate.

The whole idea of tenor for College professors was to be able to explore subjects that might be controversial.

It just seems odd that we will defend professors that speak highly of Stalin & Mao men who killed millions of people but we can not have a discussions on moral ethics.






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