The Pigpile of Subjectivism

Part of an ongoing discussion. A reader comments:

All subjectivists, in my experience, believe that subjectivism is true for all people at all times, and furthermore that it is all people’s duty to acknowledge this.

I remember a philosophy class that turned into a pigpile on me until the teacher intervened in the discussion because it got too fierce — and I meekly observed afterwards that it was very odd to be told that I was wrong for saying that points of view could be wrong. Fortunately, they were smart enough to be abashed. (One classmate, not one of the pile, chuckled.)

My comment: I suspect, from your description, that the pigpile was surprisingly fierce because you touched a nerve. By commenting that there was such a thing as right and wrong, you challenged the highest and most revered idol of modern idolatry, the nothingness at the core of all postmodern thought.

If there is such a thing as right and wrong, then Political Correctness is not politeness and enlightenment, it is Orwellian deception and self-deception.

If there is right and wrong, the main argument in favor of sexual license and sexual perversion (namely, ” ‘taint nobody’s business if I do”) is no longer available.

If there is such a thing as right and wrong, all cases of historical injustice have to be judged on their merits, not condemned because it forms the “narrative” of the stronger or weaker party; indeed, the whole process of investigating the motives and character of the person condemned rather than their argument shifts the intellectual past-time of the leisured intellectual away from gossip and back toward the merits of the argument.

When their central idol was challenged, all the modern halfwits and lackwits are required by their sense of honor to defend what the truth of their creed, namely, that there is no such thing as honor and no such thing as truth.

It is to their credit that any of them perceived the irony or got the joke of the manifest self contradiction involved. Most moderns are as lacking in humor and self reflection as they are in reason.

I hope I will be forgiven the slightly impolite act of quoting in its entirety a post from an admirable writer whose thoughts have a particular pithy clarity on the matter. This is from Bruce Charlton:

Why do modern people violate Natural Law?

 Natural Law is the inbuilt, universal human understanding of the good – the true, beautiful and virtuous.

Modern people violate this, the modern state propagandises the violation of Natural Law, the violation of Natural Law is taught explicitly, and inculcated covertly, by the ‘arts’ and entertainment and news.

(I mean that personal experience and observation are meaningless or intrinsically mistaken, that lies are truth, and truth is hate; that beauty is kitsch and deliberately-contrived-ugliness is true beauty, and the reversed/ inverted sexual morality which forms the focus of so much modern public and personal life where what was bad becomes a subsidised and coerced good, while what was good is labelled an agent of cruelty.)


It is not because of stupidity. Everybody already knows (by its definition) Natural Law. But under Leftism people know it only to violate it. And this is evil – intentional, purposive, deliberate evil.

To put it another way, the main problem is that people are not even not-even-trying to be good; they are actually trying to be bad, because they believe (because they are told, 24/7, and punished if they disagree) that bad is good.

(But ‘people’ are not innocent victims of this evil propaganda – they contribute to it and profit by it and try to exploit it for their own ends; they are culpable, they are blame-worthy – they will be held to account not for that which was coerced upon them, but for their self-interested propagation of the ideology which rationalizes this coercion.)


This is why there is no atheist solution to the current problems, it is why the secular Right is of no use; and why paganism is no use – why (ultimately) only traditional devout monotheism can and will defeat Leftism.

Nothing else than monotheism has the solid transcendental core to withstand the multifaceted worldly materialism of Leftism.


In the past, before the triumph of the Left, human society would ‘naturally’ be regulated by Natural Law.

But we are now in a situation in which Natural Law is regarded as evil.

(Evil because a universal tyrant, an inescapable and exclusive code of behaviour, a strangling constraint on freedom of self-development; because NL makes some people suffer – suffer either absolutely, or relatively compared with what they ideally-might experience… and so on.)

Therefore reminding people of universal values is worthless, or even harmful – because modern Leftism is precisely about violating and inverting Natural Law (‘subverting’ is their favourite term).


Argument is useless – the Left knows the arguments anyway (since they are common sense and based on universal knowledge and experience); but they will not argue.

The Left know that their own arguments are incoherent but have chosen to embrace incoherence as a sign of their own depth of moral conviction.

In fact incoherence is a sign of enthrallment to purposive evil, reflecting that evil is incoherent (because negative, destructive by its nature – the anti-Good does not need to be coherent).


  1. Comment by The Ubiquitous:

    There’s a great passage in Ratzinger’s introduction to Soul of a Lion, commenting on the anecdote from von Hildebrand’s very young years when he argued against his sister’s relativism. His sister, having the worse of the argument and unable to answer his criticisms, eventually turned to their dad for the argument to get settled.

    Ratzinger comments something to the effect of: So it is with all totalitarian regimes. It can only win by appealing to authority.

  2. Comment by momofthree:

    OK…i get it and have read a bit about Natural Law. But how would you respond to someone who replied, “It is natural for a man to have more than one wife. Just look at the inherent reproductive systems of each, and the fact that many societies have been polygynous in the past. Likewise, women are by nature more cooperative and detest the isolation of rearing children alone in a suburban home.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      I would ask the person to define how he is using the term ‘Natural Law’ and I would gently urge him to become familiar with the why that term has been used throughout the last 2500 years of Western philosophy. I would at all costs avoid a semantic argument.

      I would ask that person if he is capable of making a distinction between what his appetites tell him to do and what his conscience tells him to do. I would remind him that the uniquely modern way to dodge the question of any and all duties we owe to the conscience, a way perfected by Thomas Hobbes, is merely to define the will as the outcome or last term in a chain of mental causes or impulses or decisions or determinations, as if the internal debate of a man wrestling with his conscience is either unknown or unimportant. By defining the will as the last term of the internal debate, all analysis of internal debates is dismissed as meaningless: the saint obeys his conscience because that is what he wills, and the sinner obeys his appetites because that is what he wills. By carefully limiting the debate the shallowest possible elements in the question, namely, whether or not the act is willed, all debate about the internal debate is silenced. All question of right and wrong is dodged. The conscience is dismissed as being nothing more than the echo of social conditioning, perhaps conditioning imposed for sinister reasons.

      I would tell that person that by posing the question as he does, he implicitly assumes that there is no Natural Law, no moral imperatives, aside from doing whatever one has a desire to do. But Natural Law is defined as those moral imperatives whose authority over us does not wax or wane as our desires and appetites wax and wane. A duty that we are obligated to do when and only when we feel like it is not a duty at all.

      • Comment by momofthree:

        I am under the assumption that rules of moral behavior rooted in Natural Law consist of those that are based on examining human nature as evidenced in many cultures throughout the entire world and throughout history. I must say that I don’t think polygyny is always only an institution cooked up to be in the best interest of the males giving in to their appetites. It was more a stable tribal system that ensured a place for children to be reared in a world of uncertainty and tribal conflict.

        I suppose I am a bit baffled by your feeling compelled to illustrate the difference between duty to conscience and duty to the whims of one’s will. I am not arguing that there are no universal truths, but rather (echoing the points of a friend) that there are possibly grey areas that might just as easily be justified under the banner of “Natural Law” as not.
        Do you honestly think that men in polygynous societies of years past were bothered by their conscience telling them they should only take one wife? That they struggled with an internal dialogue? I will have to think about that one.

        • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

          Love is our final end, all that we do must be in the name of love, which is commitment. Polygamy is a lesser commitment than monogamy, and thus is a lesser expression of love, and thus is far less perfect than one and other united till death.

          On top of this is what womanhood means, i.e. the nature of womanhood. As you so well point out later on, it involves at a physical level a huge burden — which is, therefore, a blessing — and one at a time. Given what it is to be pregnant, love-which-is-commitment demands that the man, out of love for his bride, keep to himself one bride and not the presumption of many. Therefore, polygamy is not an expression appropriate to love.

          This comment speaks of a generalized love and married love which still does not touch questions of particularized love (like eros) or questions derived from sexuality. May nobody start talking about “gay marriage” or “womenpriests” or the like. Tiring enough to deal with all of that over at Leah’s place.

        • Comment by Nostreculsus:

          Dear momofthree,

          Another approach to understanding what polygynous relationships are like might be to simply ask. Polygamy is hardly a remote practice. For instance, both presidential candidates in the US have polygynous grandfathers. Polygamy was common enough in Asia, until recently, that most people, especially from the wealthier classes, can say the same about grandpa. Black Africans can give similar stories, often about their parents.

          And the family stories reveal this: polygyny ensures the continuation of the family line (the Henry VIII motive), but the women are not happily sharing the household duties (and sharing hubby). There is intense, if covert, rivalry between wives and a shifting pecking order. The men are not particularly bothered by conscience; they are doing the accepted thing to ensure the family’s survival and establish its prestige. They are bothered by the wives’ infighting.

          This situation is also treated in Asian films, such as Zhang Yimou’s “Raise the Red Lantern” and in plays such as David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child”, based on his own family’s history.

          • Comment by John C Wright:

            I hate to say it, but this does not address her question. She was not asking for a defense of polygamy nor a criticism of polygamy. She was asking about the relationship between the Natural Law and a practice which is generally alleged to be a widespread and ancient violation of that law. The unspoken question is how the Natural Law can exist if its basic outlines can be not recognized by a majority of the human race for a majority of time.

            • Comment by hrefn:

              Everyone violates the Natural Law. Lying, cheating, theft, drunkenness, murder, wrath are ubiquitous, in all places and times. Violations of the law are not arguments that there is no law. For a law to be violated, it must first exist. If you agree with this, then Natural Law exists, and the only issue is how well we understand the law.
              More precisely, the widespread practice of polygamy does not call into question the existence of Natural Law, just as the widespread practice of lying does not. Slavery was another widespread practice, and like polygamy was not acknowledged to be wrong by many of its practitioners, yet few would argue it to be lawful today.
              Therefore, violations of the Natural Law can clearly exist for thousands of years and in many places; this does not disprove the existence of the law.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          “I am under the assumption that rules of moral behavior rooted in Natural Law consist of those that are based on examining human nature as evidenced in many cultures throughout the entire world and throughout history.”

          That assumption is incorrect. That is not the way the phrase is defined when used as a term of art among philosophers and theologians for the last two thousand years. Lex Naturalis consists of any law of moral behavior which is not Positive Law (that is, manmade law, laws posited by men).

          In jurisprudence, we lawyers make a distinction between malum in se , an act evil in and of itself, and malum prohibitum, an act unlawful because a law or regulation forbids it, but not evil in the absence of such prohibition. An obviously example is that murder is wrong even when lawful (malum in se) whereas driving on the right or the left side of the road is wrong only where the laws of America or England provide (malum prohibitum).

          I am really, really not interested in a merely semantic argument. If you find the term “Natural Law” confusing or ambiguous, let us use another. Anyone who argues, as I do, that polygamy is wrong even in those barbaric ages or heathen lands where it is lawful, must argue that there is an objective moral order — and if he is to argue rather than merely assert, he must argue that the moral order can be deduced by human reason.

          It is no argument against the objective and rational nature of the moral order to say that barbaric peoples did not deduce it, any more than it is to say that Euclidean geometry is invalid in China and Egypt and other lands where Pythagoras did not live.

          The argument against polygamy, like the argument against slavery, is based on a rational deduction from first principles combined with a certain minimal experiential knowledge of fallen human nature. It is not an argument from positive law. It is an argument from Natural Law, that is, from the reasoning powers innate or natural to human nature.

          I do not propose that all polygamists have guilty consciences. I propose that they ought to have.

          • Comment by Stephen J.:

            But — asking merely to know how to answer this objection should someone make it to me, if I quote this argument — isn’t the claim advanced for the Natural Law not just that it is universally knowable but that it is universally, instinctively known — that you cannot honestly claim not to know it?

            And if the conscience is the inner voice of this Natural Law, then how can there be someone who “ought” to have a guilty conscience but in fact does not? If the Natural Law is instinctively known and the conscience is how we know it, then someone in knowing violation of the Law cannot not have a guilty conscience, and someone who has no guilty conscience cannot be in violation of it (barring another explanation such as honest ignorance of what you may actually have done — like Mal Reynolds having unknowingly married Saffron in that Firefly episode — or neurological malformation that makes you psychopathically, physically incapable of understanding it).

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              I know of no Natural Law theorist who advances the claim that all men automatically and undeniably (which is what I assume you mean when you say ‘instinctively’) know the full content of Natural Law. I would say some theorists say that there are parts of the Natural Law which are automatic and undeniable: everyone regards the ingratitude of a child to his parents as unnatural, everyone flinches away from incest, pederasty, and (oddly enough) nudity. The revolting horror of cannibalism is known even to those who practice it, and may indeed be the main appeal.

              But even these few instinctive bits of the natural law can be overwhelmed by habituation, training, sinfulness, stubbornness, folly. The imagination of man is sufficient to stifle whatever natural knowledge he has of the natural law, and the conscience can indeed be made deaf, or even (as in the modern day with topics like infanticide and sodomy) inverted, so that one is trained to admire the evil and despise the good.

              The main problem, again, is to define your terms and to make a clear topic sentence: to say what it is that you are arguing. I argue that the Natural Law exists, and is objective, in the same why that geometry exists, and is objective, but not in the way the rules of chess exist, or traffic regulations; chess rules are arbitrary and manmade (posited). The clearest example of Natural Law is the Golden Rule. Some formulation or another of this rule is known to all literate societies, and it is self evident. One cannot debate or contemplate morality at all unless one contemplates moral laws; and a law is that which applies equally to oneself as to others, independent of one’s self interest. The nature of law as “law” makes all law fall under the Golden Rule — which is a rule that establishes an objective standard, the same as applies to you as to others.

              The conscience is not the automatic nor the instinctive voice of Natural Law. Conscience can be distorted in the same way an eye can be nearsighted, or blind.

              And no one is claiming that children before the age of reason, or madmen, or persons raised in invincible ignorance of the moral law, are blamed for violating such laws.

              So. Are we clear? No one said Natural Law is instinctively known, and no one said the uninstructed conscience of men of bad character, or ignorant, or insane, is how we know the Natural Law. The Natural Law is known by ratiocination, much as geometry is known, aided by the wisdom of experience, and aided also by a kind heart, a clear mind, and the divine light of inspiration.

              • Comment by Gian:

                “The Natural Law is known by ratiocination,”

                Ratiocination would only allow one to deduce one truth from another. To began the process of ratiocination, one requires intellectual perception.
                As CS Lewis has written in The Discarded Image,
                “to acknowledge a duty is to perceive a truth”.

                I submit that a lot of Natural Law including monogamy is a matter of direct intellectual perception and not a matter of ratiocination at all.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  “Ratiocination would only allow one to deduce one truth from another. To began the process of ratiocination, one requires intellectual perception.”

                  No one has argued that ratiocination is not allowing one to deduce one truth from another. What are you talking about? What has this to do with the topic?

                  I don’t know what you mean by “intellectual perception.” Whether or not ratiocination begins with intellectual perception has no bearing on anything being discussed here. If your assertion were true, it would still be the case that natural law is a rational rather than empirical study; likewise if it were false.

                  The C.S. Lewis quote has nothing to do with the sentence before it, nor with the sentence after it. Mr Lewis is talking about the nature of duty. Whether or not it were true that to acknowledge a duty is to perceive a truth has no bearing on whether the study of Natural Law is non-empirical.

                  Again, you baffle me. I do not mean I disagree with you; I mean your words seem meaningless to me. I cannot tell if you are agreeing or disagreeing or changing the subject.

                  • Comment by Gian:

                    Human ratiocination is fallible, very much so.
                    That’s why there is so much disagreement on moral questions.

                    That’s why the study of Natural Law must include empirical observations of the real, existing societies. It can not be all in the brain.

                    Duty is related to Natural Law since Natural Law defines obligations.

                    I notice that you have not given any example of ratiocination re:polygamy.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      Human reason is fallible, but from this is it an invalid inference to conclude that Natural Law does not exist, any more than to conclude that mathematics does not exist.

                      The empirical observation of real, existing societies cannot be used for anything aside from the informal logical error of saying that since a practice is commonplace, it is moral. The informal logical error (ad populum) was used in the example which started this thread. Your comment about the brain is an informal logical error of false dichotomy, namely, you imply that the only two choice are empiricism and “all in the brain” (which may mean anything from hallucination to arbitrariness).

                      No one is disputing that the argument about moral duties is related to duty, and no one is disputing that duty is unrelated to truth. The dispute is that your comments are irrelevant and meaningless.

                      No one has asked me for an example of ratiocination regarding polygamy.

                  • Comment by The OFloinn:

                    The intellect is not directed toward perception at all. It is directed toward conception. A percept is the natural object of the outer and inner senses; a concept, that of the intellect.

                    The confusion between the imagination and the intellect may be why Mr. Gian continues to feel that natural law is somehow an inference from empirical observation rather than a deduction from human nature. Perhaps he is unable to conceive of any sort of reasoning that does not mimic the empirical sciences.

                    • Comment by Gian:

                      Direct intellectual perception is grasping a truth like 1+1=2.
                      In the realm of morals, it can be called ‘dictates of conscience’.
                      Also, it is roughly called intuition.
                      In short, it is all truths we know that we know not by reasoning or by observation.

                      The word ’empirical sciences’ is redundant. All sciences are, of necessity, empirical.

                      I have never said that Moral Law is an ‘inference’ from observations. But I maintain that given our fallible reason, an approximate idea of Moral Law can be obtained through observation. CS Lewis has used precisely the same strategy to show the existence of Moral Law (or Tao) in Abolition of Man.

            • Comment by The OFloinn:

              isn’t the claim advanced for the Natural Law … that it is universally, instinctively known

              No. Compare: a deaf man given hearing by clever artifice must subsequently learn to hear, even though hearing is a natural power. Evil actions, as they become habituated, “vulcanize” one’s neural patterns and impair the rational faculties. Since human nature is to be a rational animal, this is ipso facto contrary to natural law. Instead of perfecting one’s reason, it defective-izes one’s reason. And without a well-formed reason, one cannot “hear” that still, small inner voice.
              + + +
              And if the conscience is the inner voice of this Natural Law, then how can there be someone who “ought” to have a guilty conscience but in fact does not?

              Easy. They have made themselves deaf. Recall that serial killers often show hesitation marks in their woundings in their first or second efforts. Concentration camp guards often got sick at what they had to do… at first. But the horror of the human condition is that we soon grow used to it, and make all sorts of excuses for what we do.

            • Comment by momofthree:

              Thank you…you said what I was trying to say, and much better!

      • Comment by Gian:

        You beg the question. The Natural Law is not derivative of conscience (which is a late evolution, even in New testament, it does not mean what it means now), but of reason informed by evidences.

        Do you maintain that all whose religion permits polygamy are violating their consciences if they engage in polygamy?

        But how could they?. Their consciences were formed by their religion so polygamy conforms to their consciences.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Please do not use the terminology of logical fallacies when you don’t know what the terms mean. Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the assumption that the conclusion is true. The fallacy is that simply assuming that the conclusion is true in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion.

          The question I was asked was “How would you respond to someone who replied, “It is natural for a man to have more than one wife. Just look at the inherent reproductive systems of each, and the fact that many societies have been polygamous in the past.”?” The answer is that the phrase ‘Natural Law’ is a term of art, and does not mean what the question assumes it means. Correcting an ambiguity in a definition is not a circular argument.

          You then follow up with two rhetorical questions which, as far as I can see, are unrelated to the topic. Perhaps you would be kind enough to draw out explicitly the missing step or steps in your reasoning to make clear what the relation is between the conscience and the Natural Law, or on what grounds you are arguing that Natural Law is derived from the conscience. Unless you are arguing against that position?

          On my part, my argument was that Natural Law exists independently of human perception or misperception of it.

          • Comment by The OFloinn:

            Perhaps the misunderstanding can be clarified by noting that a baseball falling to earth is natural motion while one thrown by a pitcher exhibits unnatural motion.

          • Comment by Gian:

            Mr Wright,
            The point was that you replied to the original argument (“ratiocinative”) by pretending that no argument was made:

            “It is natural for a man to have more than one wife. Just look at the inherent reproductive systems of each, and the fact that many societies have been polygynous in the past. Likewise, women are by nature more cooperative and detest the isolation of rearing children alone in a suburban home.”

            You replied
            “I would tell that person that by posing the question as he does, he implicitly assumes that there is no Natural Law, no moral imperatives, aside from doing whatever one has a desire to do.”

            The argument may be wrong but it was an argument, not a mere assertion and hence a valid exercise in Natural Law.

            My futher point is that Natural Law can not be purely or even generally ratiocinative. It must be based upon empirical observations. One sees elders being respected, one sees marriages being made, one sees that communities exert jurisdiction over individuals. Your ratiocinative process must need start from these observations otherwise the ratiocination has no contact with reality,

            It is no argument that “I see that polygamy is wrong and all others who query the basis of my assertion have defective consciences”

            • Comment by John C Wright:

              Please reread. The argument was based on an ambiguity, which I distinguished. He argued that “natural law” would support polygamy on two grounds: 1. the biological nature of the reproductive system 2. the widespread nature of the practice. Neither of these grounds have anything to do with lex naturalis properly so called. I did not invent the definition, I am merely using it. You can look it up.

              So I in nowise was pretending an argument was not made. An argument was not made. It was not formally logically valid: it was on a topic irrelevant to the discussion. These points were made several times, and rather clearly, in the discussion that follow: first, the frequency of a practice does not make a practice in accord with natural law (or, for that matter, with positive law). Second, because something is possible or easy does not make it morally right or wrong.

              Your observations about ratiocination may be true, but, again, I see no relation to the argument being made. The sentence “One sees elders being respected, one sees marriages being made, one sees that communities exert jurisdiction over individuals.” is unclear. I don’t know what you are talking about. I do not see how this relates to the discussion. If I were born and raised in the Antebellum South, Natural Law would condemn the cruelty and injustice of slavery, but my respected elders, and indeed all of history to prehistory, would confirm that slavery was a necessary institution, beneficial to civilization.

              “Your ratiocinative process must need start from these observations otherwise the ratiocination has no contact with reality.” I do not know what observations you mean as “these” observations. All moral reasoning about those things that are innately immoral must start from “One sees elders being respected, one sees marriages being made, one sees that communities exert jurisdiction over individuals”?

              I am not sure what this sentence means: “It is no argument that “I see that polygamy is wrong and all others who query the basis of my assertion have defective consciences” No one here has made such an argument. This is not even a strawman fallacy on your part, for a strawman argument has to have enough relation to the argument it is mocking so as to seem to be a weak version of it. It seems to be random words strung together.

              I am puzzled by your approach in writing. You seem to jump from sentence to sentence as if expecting your readers to fill in the blanks. I do not see the links or connections between your sentences and paragraphs. It reads like stream of consciousness. Perhaps I am the only one with this difficulty with you, but in the future I recommend you write without using pronouns, that you use topic sentences, that you tell me what point you are trying to prove, and that you give your reasons to support the point being proved.

              • Comment by Gian:

                I take your advise.
                1) A lot of Christian writers e.g. Anthony Esolen argue against same-sex marriage using exactly the same biological argument that you say is invalid in Natural Law discourse.

                I have tried to argue with Esolen that his argument is invalid and a cross-cultural argument against same-sex marriage would be better and more effective.

                The biological argument is insufficient because man can not be reduced to biology.
                How do you deny a man that says that genitals are also for producing pleasure?

                2) I agree that frequency of a practice has no bearing on its morality. But then what is the content of Natural Law except for dictates of my fallible conscience?

                3) How do I know that the slave-holders were wrong? Except for the pronouncements of the Catholic Church (for Catholics), where is the infallible voice of the Natural Law?

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  No, you did not take my advice. I do not know what point you are trying to make or what you are trying to prove. If you wish to argue with Esolen, what has that to do with me?

                  (1) The arguments you foolishly call “the exact same argument” have nothing to do with each other. The first argument is that polygamy is not moral by the natural law merely because it is biologically possible. The second argument is that homosexual couples do not form a sexual dyad and therefore their behavior is against human nature, which is bisexual. Human beings are a race with two sexes on a spiritual and psychological level as well as on a physical level. The Cartesian idea that a being can be physically one sex and psychologically the other is illogical if the soul is regarded as the essence of the self. Men are not indistinguishable from women even if they are eunuchs, or suffer some birth defect or damage to the male member which makes the sex act biologically impossible.

                  (2) The Natural Law consists of what moral truths can be deduced from human nature, and the nature of reality. The argument that Natural Law exists, which is the only argument we are here discussing, rests on the fact that Positive Law errs, and can be criticized rationally when it errs. The conscience, if correctly trained, correctly perceives the Natural Law. The force of habit and arbitrary social conditioning is not the conscience, any more than the eyeball is a lightbulb.

                  (3) You know the slave holders were wrong through the use of reason. Under the axiom that the same moral law should apply to the master as to the slave, and with the clear intuition that one would oneself be morally offended if one were enslaved, one can deduce that one ought not enslave others. The reason why one would be morally offended, that is, offended even if for some masochistic reason one did not have an emotional objection to slavery, is that human nature is offended: we are rational creatures and slavery treats us like beasts of burden, controlled by commands and whips rather than by contract, covenant, brotherly love, and other categories proper to rational beings.

                  In this example of the argument, human nature as a rational being is references, but no nonsense about anthropological studies of slaveholding societies is called for, no empirical weights and measures of matter in motion, none of the silly blather you insist on discussing. That man can think is obvious to any man who thinks about the question. You may call it an observation if you insist on using a misleading term, but the act of observation is a rational act, a thought, and ergo is logically prior to empirical studies.

                  Your three points, while you have numbered them, could have been written in any order, and do not add up to a conclusion. You are not being clear enough for me to understand what your point is.

                  Are you arguing that there is no Natural Law? If so, on what ground do you criticize me for saying that there is? It cannot be on the ground of Positive Law, because Positive Law does not say it is wrong for me to think wrong things. The naked fact that something is untrue does not impose a moral duty to avoid untruth; only the fact that something is untrue combined with a moral law commanding all men to seek truth can reach the conclusion that this man, me, should avoid this alleged untruth.

                  Therefore either it is not immoral for me to speak and think and untruth, or moral law rests on something other than Positive Law. The only law which is not Positive Law (manmade law) is Natural Law (nonmanmade law).

                  Therefore even the act of arguing against Natural Law assumes the very conclusion the argument seeks to deny.

                  • Comment by Gian:

                    I am not questioning the existence of Moral Law but your infallible certainty as to the contents of the Moral Law.

                    It is better to leave the term Natural Law (since that is better applied to a discussion where it is contrasted with the Divine Law) and use Moral Law.

                    You write
                    “The Natural Law consists of what moral truths can be deduced from human nature, and the nature of reality”

                    But how do you know “human nature and the nature of reality”?.
                    Only through observations.
                    And “human nature” is a very ambiguous thing anyway. Do you mean unfallen nature or fallen nature?.

                    3) That man is a rational being can only be known as a deduction from observations.
                    Otherwise you need to provide the basis for this assertion.

                    Your slavery reasoning is good but not good enough. There can a any number of specific circumstances that a rationalist philosophy must omit. Perhaps it is just that a defeated warrior is enslaved or a debtor that fails to pay his debts or it may be just to enslave a murderer or a rapist. Just saying man is a rational being helps nothing to sort out these specific conundrums.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      What certainty? What contents? Please refer to the specific sentence of mine you disagree with, and quote it. So far, all I have argued is that there is a Natural Law. I have either said nothing, or said only very tentative things about the contents.

                    • Comment by Gian:

                      Mr Wright,
                      You made this statement:
                      “The argument against polygamy, like the argument against slavery, is based on a rational deduction from first principles combined with a certain minimal experiential knowledge of fallen human nature. ”

                      I have been asking for the argument itself. The mere existence of Moral Law I do not doubt but I have great doubts if Natural Law forms a self-consistent axiomatic system. I rather think that it is a matter of great deal of independent axioms that are unified at depths greater than that accessed by philosophical reason (“ratiocination”).

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      I am not in a position to help you if you wish to meditate on the morality or otherwise of slavery and polygamy. My point was that the arguments existed, and that they were not empirical.

                      No one claimed that the knowledge of Natural Law is axiomatic and self-consistent, albeit the attempt to put all moral maxims into such a system is one of the main preoccupations of philosophers in all ages save the present one.

                      Once again, the questions and remarks in your most recent comment (as far as I can see) have no bearing on anything discussed before. You have not been asking for the argument against slavery or polygamy, and I don’t know why you say you have been. Let me recommend you read the biography of Frederick Douglass if you want a strong and immediate argument against slavery.

                      Here, in this last comment, you put forward a new topic: namely, you say that the Natural Law exists, but is beyond the depth of human reasoning. Fair enough. It seems an interesting viewpoint, but is unrelated to the discussion heretofore.

                      I assume I am the only one who cannot follow what you are saying. I don’t know if it is your word choice, or the unspoken assumption I make or you make, or if it is a gypsy curse, but I never seem to understand what in the world you are talking about. I am left bewildered and under the impression that you are challenging me to defend a position I do not hold.

                      If your concern from the beginning was the epistemological nature of knowledge of the Natural Law, it would save us both time if you would state your position from the outset. I would agree that certain moral maxims are axiomatic and not open to discussion, moral intuitions, if you will, which forms a type of knowledge no man with a healthy conscience can possibly deny or pretend to doubt. Reasoning from those axioms seems to me to be usually a matter of legal precedent: as we reason about moral issues, we draw analogies in doubtful cases to clear cases, or we distinguish those cases.

                      As an example, in a debate between two people, or in a debate of a man within himself in his heart, over the morality or otherwise of sodomy, the argument on the one hand analogizes homosexual acts to incest, bestiality, pederasty, and other illicit sexual passions, and calls homosexual acts perverse. This argument by the nature of the argument will emphasize the characteristics whereby sodomy differs from sex, such as the absence of the reproductive act. The argument on the other hand analogizes homosexual acts to heterosexual acts. This argument by the nature of the argument emphasizes the characteristic homosexual acts share with licit sexual acts, that is, the love and affection between the couple, and by the nature of the argument seeks to distinguish the cases from the unwelcome precedents, so the argument will emphasize the characteristics where sodomy differs from other perversions, such as the absence of informed consent.

                      A deeper argument, and one resting on more obscure axioms, would be the libertarian versus the moralistic arguments, where one defines morality as that which harms no neighbors, and the other defines morality as that which serves human nature. The first moral axiom holds toleration as the highest good, the second holds virtue and human happiness as the highest good.

                      Such arguments are usually less useful, because axiomatic arguments involve appeals to moral intuitions rather than legalistic reasoning: the argument that we should tolerate perversions in our neighbors on the grounds that there is no consensus on the nature of virtue and happiness, in my judgment, is no more compelling than the argument that we should seek virtue both individually and in the collective on the grounds that there is no consensus on the nature of what is tolerable and intolerable.

                      Without getting into the merits of the particular cases, my point here is only that moral reasoning works by precedent and distinction, whereas a discussion of moral axioms involve appeals to principles grasped by the intuition, and by “intuition” in this context, I mean moral truths too obvious for legitimate skepticism.

                    • Comment by John C Wright:

                      Gian, I am sorry, but your comments are a paradox.

                      Are you seriously arguing that whether or not human beings are rational creatures (ergo able to talk and reason and use arguments and to grasp abstractions) is known and can only be known by observing men and drawing a deduction as to their rationality?

                      That might be true if you and I were Martians or angels or somesuch, but we are both human beings. What would it mean to observe human beings and deduce that we are not rational? If humans are not beings capable of reasoning, we two humans cannot be making philosophical observations and drawing abstract deductions from them.

                      That men are rational creatures is the one thing men cannot reason about, because the act of reasoning is impossible without the faculty of reason. That men talk sense is the one thing we cannot talk sense about, because the act of talking sense not only proves we can, it proves it a priori. Reason is the one thing all rational discussions must assume is logically prior to any rational discussion.

                      Therefore the comment that the men are rational is only known through observation (which is a type of reasoning) is self-refuting. It is a manifest self contradiction in terms.

                    • Comment by The OFloinn:

                      That man is a rational being can only be known as a deduction from observations.

                      Actually, it is known from introspection and charity, the latter being the assumption that those beings you see that resemble you are exercising the same faculty that you discover within yourself. Observation can only tell you external behaviors and facts alone have no meanings. That Joe Blow is “rational” is an assumption on your part. (Rational does not mean academic, correct, knowledgeable, or other such; only the ability to abstract concepts like “dog” from concrete observables like Fido, Spot, and Rover.

                      Perhaps it is just that a defeated warrior is enslaved or a debtor that fails to pay his debts
                      or it may be just to enslave a murderer or a rapist.

                      The expression “lesser of two evils” comes to mind. St. Thomas used the example of a judge sentencing a thief to prison. Since everyone has a natural right to liberty, the judge’s action is evil. It may also deprive his wife and children of sustenance. But since others have the right to property, to let him lose is also evil. Yet the judge must act and choose the lesser of the two evils. But the lesser of two evils is still an evil. (Thomas helps by stating when a man is justified in stealing from another!)

                      Folks accustomed to positive law tend to think of natural law as a set of “rules” with “content” rather than as a basis for moral reasoning.

              • Comment by John Hutchins:

                I believe there was another part of the rationale for polygamy in the top post that you didn’t address: ” women are by nature more cooperative and detest the isolation of rearing children alone in a suburban home.”. By itself I suppose it is probably a better argument for play groups as for polygamy but it is one of the points brought up in places such as Womens Exponent, a women’s newspaper from the 1870’s Utah in favor of polygamy and women’s right to vote.

                • Comment by John C Wright:

                  I did not address it because it was not formatted as an independent argument: I interpreted that clause to be offered as supporting evidence only, not an argument the alternate to the argument that polygamy is biologically possible and is culturally frequent.

                  If treated as an independent argument (I mean independent of the arguments that polygamy is biologically possible or culturally frequent, ergo permitted by the Natural Law), it suffers from the informal logical fallacy of false dichotomy, to wit, as if the only two permitted alternatives were polygamy or suburbia.

                  The alternative of, for example, the extended family, where aunts and cousins and older children all aid in the child rearing, or royalty, where Queen mothers gossip over their needlepoint and quilting bees with their ladies-in-waiting, are supported as strongly (or as weakly) by the argument that women by nature detest lonely childrearing. In any case, it might prove that suburbia was against the Natural Law, but the argument does not necessarily prove that bigamy and polygamy are in accord with it.

                  The other flaw in the argument is the missing middle premise. No where so far in the conversation have we established that the Natural Law promotes human happiness when and if such happiness conflicts with human virtue. The only reason why we have different words for duty and desire is because human nature makes it so that we frequently do not desire to do our duty.

    • Comment by hrefn:

      If some men have many wives, then other men must have none. That is one of the dark and unnatural sides of polygyny.
      Men who like the idea of polygyny always expect they will be the ones with multiple wives. Are the surplus men to be killed off, exiled, or encouraged to go steal wives from elsewhere? Or resign themselves to their lot?
      Yeah, that’ll work out well.

      • Comment by momofthree:

        Well, during most of history quite a large percentage of the men were out warring, and probably many died….but yes…it creates a large issue. So why then are men able to produce fertile seed throughout their lives while their wives experience a midlife cessation of ovulation?

        • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

          Natural Law isn’t for answering questions of natural selection. (Similarly, quadratic equations are quite unable to answer the bleating of a quadraped.)

        • Comment by hrefn:

          Consider a chaste married couple. As a practical matter, their fertility is tied together. His fertility is always potential, contingent on his wife’s fertility. Her fertility is also contingent on his. No one is fertile in isolation. Only couples can be fertile.
          Therefore, when one member of the couple reaches menarche, that couple is no longer fertile.
          If the wife dies, it is true that the husband could remarry and engender children should the second wife be of childbearing age.
          None of this makes any argument for polygyny that I can see.
          Now, a society in which a high percentage of the men were unavailable for marriage is a different question, and damages my attempt at a Natural Law objection to polygyny ( that if some men have many wives,
          perforce some have none). But the biological difference in men’s and women’s span of potential child-engendering seems not relevant to the question.

        • Comment by rlbell:

          Men who are old and not dead possess inheritable traits that allow them to beget long lived children. If they stopped being fertile before they got old, there would be no way to identify the trait. Men stay fertile in old age, because thats how women chose their men. It should be noted that this selection process was firmly in place before we even achieved tool use, let alone recorded history.

          Women stop being fertile to lessen the odds of them dying in childbirth. Birthing children used to be a common cause of death, so there is an evolutionary advantage to an organism with a long stage of immaturity if mothers stop bearing more children to improve the odds that they can help their children be successful parents. Women stop being fertile because being a grandmother improves reproductive success.

          Natural Law has little to do with it.

          • Comment by The OFloinn:

            Sounds kind of natural to me. I just love Just So stories because a) they are replete with final causation and b) reveal the metaphysical nature of the underlying principle. Please note that one could as easily concoct a Darwinian Just So story if the fertility situation were reversed. The phrase “non-falsifiable” do come to mind. :-)

      • Comment by The OFloinn:

        And the many frustrated unstated men whose might-have-been wives were appropriated by the alphas do make fierce fighters and provide the city with a conquering army. Both the Spartans and the Zulus hit upon the notion that if you keep your young men celibate and reward the older soldiers with young girls, your armies will conquer.

    • Comment by The OFloinn:

      a) Everything that happens in nature is by definition natural. The faithful husband is just as “natural” in the modern usage (which equates “natural” with “physical).
      b) human nature is to be a rational animal. The natural law is to perfect the qualities of that nature. Insofar as “animal,” it means to perfect the body (matter): our senses, our common sense, our appetites, our motions, plus the lesser powers we share with plants. Insofar as “rational,” it means to perfect the mind/soul (form): our intellect and volition. Hence: mens sana in corpore sano.
      c) The good is to perfect these powers, and that is bad which results in a deficiency in them. I may want to eat chocolate whenever I crave it and not gain weight; but the common verdict of reason is that this cannot be done. That is why we instinctively say that “too much chocolate is bad for you.” (That “in corpore sano” thingie.) Even though it is “natural” to enjoy chocolate.
      d) The sensory appetites can be habituated by repetition (see which interferes with neural patterns originating in the neocortex. Indulging the appetites impairs reason. (The “mens sana” thingie.) Or as Mark Shea is fond of saying, “Sin makes you stupid.”
      e) The habituated appetites (or vulcanized primitive neural patterns, for those who want to sound scientificalistic) are strong impairments of the intellect and will, and so humans learn to habituate certain strengths so as to become “a second nature.” These strengths, like the strengths of the body, need to be exercised: understanding (of principles), knowledge (of proximate causes), wisdom (regarding final causes) for the intellect; justice, courage, temperance for the will; and prudence to link the two sets.
      f) The Natural Law is thus understood as the Law of (Human) Nature – i.e., its fulfillment – and not merely as Whatever Happens in Nature.

      • Comment by Henry IX:

        ‘Mark Shea is fond of saying, “Sin makes you stupid.”’

        Mark is being kind. St. Paul, in Romans 1 is not so kind.

        “… what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. … They are without excuse. … Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity … God gave them up to dishonorable passions … And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done…” Romans 1:18-32 (ESV)

        Sin not only makes you stupid, it invites and sometimes incurs the judgement of God now in the present. A debased mind is part of that judgement. And the outcome of that debased mind is doing what ought not to be done.

      • Comment by Sylvie D. Rousseau:

        I think the article linked is saying that there are ways to observe different types of neural activity: 1. In case of impairment of rational behavior; 2. In case of habituation to emotions powerful enough to motivate rational (classical theists would say “virtuous”) behavior.
        Is it related to what is called “emotional intelligence”? Is modern psychology beginning to discover what Greek philosophers discovered 2500 years ago, that virtue alone can make us happy?

    • Comment by John Hutchins:

      I would say that even if that person were right about benefits of polygamy that in today’s western society with its social norms polygamy is too often an excuse for things much darker, also (at least in the US) polygamy is illegal.

      If we lived in a different society with different norms then polygamy could possibly be a good thing, but that is not the society that we live in.

      One of the questions that the person would need to answer is what is expected in marriage? In the past marriage used to be more of a business relationship, now it is more about personal relationships.

      • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

        polygamy is too often an excuse for things much darker

        Would you agree that polygamy tends to cover up infidelity of heart?

        • Comment by John Hutchins:

          In our culture and society I suspect that the primary motivation to practice polygamy is infidelity with a desire to not have all of the bad effects. However, once you start then how do your stop?

          I suppose if the expectation in marriage on the part of the wives is to have children and be provided for then being part of a 55 member harem or 1000+ member harem or even an 8 member harem might not be that bad. However, what generally seems to happen in such cases is that two wives are favored far above the rest, and only one of those has a sure position. Usually there was the companion wife, which is often the first wife (but not for Jacob), and then there is the object of affection, usually being the youngest and most recently married of the wives (and is not a stable position). The other wives appear to have gotten a lot less attention, which some appear to have highly enjoyed that situation others appear to have been highly unhappy about the situation.

          • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

            Not that I know the ladies especially well, but seems to me that when women want children it has something to do with what it means to have a child. What it means, in the context of married relations, is a kind of intimacy, emotional and spiritual, with the father. (Having a child means other things, too, but in the context of married relations it is a question of intimacy.)

            In polygamy, the father betrays his wife with another. It being impossible to serve two masters, at least one intimacy is always betrayed in polygamy.

            Anyone who endorses polygamy betrays love. How this applies theologically — God is love — is left for meditation.

            • Comment by John Hutchins:

              You have a problem then Abraham was polygamous, as was Jacob called Israel. Polygamy is also allowed in the law of Moses and the argument that it was only allowed because of the law of Moses doesn’t really hold up as neither Abraham nor Jacob were under the law of Moses. Furthermore Hosea may have been commanded by God to take two wives which is supported by Ezekiel 23 where God says He is married to two women daughters of one mother, Judah and Israel, which Hosea’s wives were a type.

              • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                It’s a question of culpability.

                Those not knowing that God was love incarnate do not knowingly betray God. We know, however; therefore our acceptance of polygamy will knowingly betray God.

                • Comment by John Hutchins:

                  Your response fails to address any of the problems brought up most especially because Abraham knew the same gospel that the early Apostles preached, as the early Apostles said.

                  It also spectacularly fails to address Ezekiel 23, does God knowingly betray God even in allegory?

                  • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                    Abraham knew Christ?

                    Where in Ezekiel 23? It’s all about prostitution so far as I can see.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      “Abraham knew Christ?”
                      Yes, absolutely. John 8:56, Galatians 3:8

                      See vs 4, 5, 25, 35, 37 of Ezekiel 23. It actually has almost nothing to do with prostitution but with Israel and Judah playing the harlot and going after the ways of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon instead of staying faith brides to the Lord.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Barring a well-timed nudge, Ezekiel 23 does not at all deal with polygamy.

                      Seeing the coming of Christ does not mean knowing that Christ is love. Even if it did, it is more likely that Abraham saw this at the end of his life.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      You are quite the funny one The Ubiquitous.

                      Ezekiel explicitly has God saying that He is married to both girls mentioned. It is an allegory but it is one that carries over into the New Testament as well.

                      I don’t suppose you are familiar with Romans 4 and Genesis 15 (and the last part of Genesis 14). It was just after Abram had saved his brother Lot and was blessed by Melchizedek, hardly the end of his life and well before he was ever polygamous.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Fair enough on the Abram bit. But this does not prove that Abram knew God is love in the manner that the New Covenant makes clear.

                      It’s still a stretch to say that “God is polygamous.” Allegory, remember, is still written by a man writing within his frame of reference. The intent of the author — and the divine author — is so far from polygamy that stretching the parable to mean this is an absurd falsehood.

                      In the West, polygamy, much like the modern ritual of “divorce,” is a fig leaf for personal immorality. It is also, itself, immoral. And this is still true: Polygamy is a betrayal of love, and therefore God.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      In the society of today in the west you are correct. I don’t agree with polygamy always being immoral or always being a betrayal of love in all situations or in all societies but in the one that we currently live in it is usually both.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Morality changes?

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      Cultural norms change making things that used to be normal to be outside of the norm and deviant. An example: Mary being a teenage bride was the norm in her day and Joseph was not a pedophile for marrying her, if a girl named Mary age >14 got married to a 30+ year old Joseph today that would immoral and wrong.

                      Augustine in The OFloinn ‘s post explains it pretty well.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Moral opinions do not equal morality.

                      Different cultures may have different opinions about what is morally valuable, just as they may have different opinions about what happens after death. But this does not entail the conclusion that what is really right in one culture is really wrong in another, any more than different opinions about life after death entails the conclusion that different things really happen after death, depending on cultural beliefs. Just because I may believe there is no Hell does not prove that there is none and that I will not go there. If it did, a simple and infallible way of salvation would be simply to stop believing in Hell.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      So you are saying that if an older man married a young girl then that wouldn’t be immoral? Or are you saying that Abraham and Joseph (Mary’s husband) were immoral?

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Three points:

                      1. This is an equivocation on “wrong.” It breaks social norms, but not morality, for a man to marry a teenage woman.

                      2. Between Mary and Joseph was not what we would call marriage. It was more of a guardianship.

                      3. Age in marriage does not fundamentally alter the structure of marriage, which is an expression of devotion and completion and an image of the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church at the end-times wedding feast. Polygamy does change this fundamental structure.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      So then Abraham, father of the Faithful, and Jacob, called Israel, are both immoral men?

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      No. They did immoral things. Is that such a shock, considering the story of Abram?

                      God allows immoral actions, because from utter paganism it is better to have the tooth fairies than to continue in utter paganism.

                      Look at it this way: The story of the Hebrews is that they grew in faith and knowledge through the centuries, even as they transgressed God’s commandments. Over years, they sharpened their knowledge about the true God — and His Law.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      What Bible have you been reading that gave you that idea? Where is anything like that found in the New or Old Testament?

                      If anything it would appear that the reverse was largely true, with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses being taught the full gospel with the Law being given because of the wickedness of the Israelite who would have otherwise all been priests to the Most High with a knowledge of the gospel.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      I agree. Moses came before Abraham.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      Apparently this, like many of the last few times, has ceased being a discussion and you have gone off into lala land ignoring everything I say and arguing against straw men.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Sorry if it looks that way. But that ain’t it at all.

                      How did the Jews receive “the full Gospel” and yet the coming of Christ is necessary, the sayings of Christ fulfill the law?

                      Now, the Jews received the full Mosaic law. To call this the Gospel is an equivocation, though.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      I never said that the Jews as a whole had the gospel given to them, they lost that blessing and responsibility because of transgression when Moses was on the mount (the whole golden calf incident). However, as already covered Abraham had the gospel, and Moses was given the gospel on the mount. Also, as the spirit of prophecy is a testimony of Jesus then all of the holy prophets since the world began have had a testimony of Jesus and testified of Him.

                      To say that the prophets did not have the gospel or had a different gospel is to ignore one of the major points made in places like Galatians where Paul says that “if we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” and then goes on to explain that the gospel is eternal and was had by Abraham. He was pointing out that what he preached is no different then what Abraham had and that the law was given due to transgression and the whole point of the Law is to bring people to the gospel.

                    • Comment by The Ubiquitous:

                      Still don’t follow, and honestly.

                    • Comment by John Hutchins:

                      I am not sure where you are getting lost or what part of it you don’t understand.

                      Christ is the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the world and as Jesus Christ says “before Abraham was, I am” which positively identifies Himself with the Lord Jehovah. The gospel was known and planned by God before the world even existed and all the prophets were given a knowledge of Jesus Christ starting with Adam.

                      Just as we look backward to the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ with the sacrament instituted at the last supper so too did those that had the gospel before Christ look forward to Christ with the sacrifices of lambs in prefigure of Christ’s body and blood, being the Lamb of God. Both however are only truly effective if we have a broken heart and a contrite spirit (Psalm 51).

              • Comment by The OFloinn:

                Because it is a shamefully wicked thing to strip the body naked at a banquet among the drunken and licentious, it does not follow that it is a sin to be naked in the baths.

                19. We must, therefore, consider carefully what is suitable to times and places and persons, and not rashly charge men with sins. For it is possible that a wise man may use the daintiest food without any sin of epicurism or gluttony, while a fool will crave for the vilest food with a most disgusting eagerness of appetite. And any sane man would prefer eating fish after the manner of our Lord, to eating lentiles after the manner of Esau, or barley after the manner of oxen. For there are several beasts that feed on commoner kinds of food, but it does not follow that they are more temperate than we are. For in all matters of this kind it is not the nature of the things we use, but our reason for using them, and our manner of seeking them, that make what we do either praiseworthy or blameable.

                20. Now the saints of ancient times were, under the form of an earthly kingdom, foreshadowing and foretelling the kingdom of heaven. And on account of the necessity for a numerous offspring, the custom of one man having several wives was at that time blameless: and for the same reason it was not proper for one woman to have several husbands, because a woman does not in that way become more fruitful, but, on the contrary, it is base harlotry to seek either gain or offspring by promiscuous intercourse. In regard to matters of this sort, whatever the holy men of those times did without lust, Scripture passes over without blame, although they did things which could not be done at the present time, except through lust. And everything of this nature that is there narrated we are to take not only in its historical and literal, but also in its figurative and prophetical sense, and to interpret as bearing ultimately upon the end of love towards God or our neighbor, or both. For as it was disgraceful among the ancient Romans to wear tunics reaching to the heels, and furnished with sleeves, but now it is disgraceful for men honorably born not to wear tunics of that description: so we must take heed in regard to other things also, that lust do not mix with our use of them; for lust not only abuses to wicked ends the customs of those among whom we live, but frequently also transgressing the bounds of custom, betrays, in a disgraceful outbreak, its own hideousness, which was concealed under the cover of prevailing fashions.
                — Augustine of Hippo, On Christian doctrine, Book III, Ch. 12:19-20

  3. Comment by Stephen J.:

    Charlton does in fact hit the point that I always think of in these discussions:

    “Evil… because [Natural Law] makes some people suffer – suffer either absolutely, or relatively compared with what they ideally-might experience…”

    Charlton is perhaps a little dismissive here of a motivation that I believe to be a lot truer and deeper in most subjectivist-leaning people of this age: Indignation on behalf of those whose suffering appears to be unnecessary, and skepticism of anybody not likewise enduring that suffering who claims that it is necessary. It is not just that people suffer under Natural Law; it is that only some suffer, and seem to suffer unnecessarily, for no good purpose apparent to our senses or reason. Nor need this suffering be trivial or unworthy of consideration: No-fault divorce laws were passed to give women suffering in abusive relationships a legal and simple escape, and I honestly think the majority of advocates for such laws did not argue for them in a spirit of covert self-interest in giving themselves the option to leave their own merely boring marriages at minimal cost. Likewise, it is no accident that the most passionate Marxists and Leninists come more often from the middle class than the workers’ class, because it is precisely the feeling of righteousness derived from advocating on behalf of someone else’s suffering that gives them such vigour.

    (Perhaps that too is the Natural Law at work: there is some part of us that instinctively realizes that to complain too much on our own behalf is selfish, and thus there is only so much indignation we can summon up for ourselves before realizing how self-centred we are being — or, at the very least, recognizing that such complaining is becoming counterproductive; but when we act as champions for another, ah, then all the gloves can come off with the clearest of consciences.)

    Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that dismissing this motivation, tragically erroneous as it may often be, is unlikely to win converts. No man is thought so contemptible nowadays as he who “jests at scars who never felt a wound”, as the saying goes. (The no-true-Scotsman trick response to this is, of course, to say, “Any man who can laugh at his wounds has never really been wounded,” but not everyone who rejects Natural Law out of indignation at any suffering it obliges has yet reached this point.)

  4. Ping from Co-Founder of the Wright/Shea Mutual Admiration Society….:

    […] of the Wright/Shea Mutual Admiration Society….August 23, 2012 By Mark Shea Leave a Commentholds forth admirably on the Pigpile of Subjectivism.I particularly enjoyed his quote from a reader:All subjectivists, in my experience, believe that […]

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