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Marriage and The Matrix

This is from edwardfeser.blogspot.com which you can find here.  This blog is written by Edward Feser who is a Christian philosopher who I have been recently introduced to who I think provides effective clear, sobering, and direct responses to the advance of secular culture.  Usually when I reblog someone else’s post I only provide a teaser quote here and a link to the full blog post.  This piece is so good I have decided to post the entire thing here (as well as the link of course); it really demonstrates in stark relief just how baseless the arguments are in favor of same sex marriage.  I really cannot say anything that could do the piece justice so I will stop trying.  Here is the blog post in full (and you can find the original post here):

“Suppose a bizarre skeptic seriously proposed — not as a joke, not as dorm room bull session fodder, but seriously — that you, he, and everyone else were part of a computer-generated virtual reality like the one featured in the science-fiction movie The Matrix.  Suppose he easily shot down the arguments you initially thought sufficient to refute him.  He might point out, for instance, that your appeals to what we know from common sense and science have no force, since they are (he insists) just part of the Matrix-generated illusion.  Suppose many of your friends were so impressed by this skeptic’s ability to defend his strange views — and so unimpressed by your increasingly flustered responses — that they came around to his side.  Suppose they got annoyed with you for not doing the same, and started to question your rationality and even your decency.  Your adherence to commonsense realism in the face of the skeptic’s arguments is, they say, just irrational prejudice.
No doubt you would think the world had gone mad, and you’d be right.  But you would still find it difficult to come up with arguments that would convince the skeptic and his followers.  The reason is not that their arguments are rationally and evidentially superior to yours, but on the contrary because they are so subversive of all rationality and evidence — indeed, far more subversive than the skeptic and his followers themselves realize — that you’d have trouble getting your bearings, and getting the skeptics to see that they had lost theirs.  If the skeptic were correct, not even his own arguments would be any good — their apparent soundness could be just another illusion generated by the Matrix, making the whole position self-undermining.  Nor could he justifiably complain about your refusing to agree with him, nor take any delight in your friends’ agreement, since for all he knew both you and they might be Matrix-generated fictions anyway.
So, the skeptic’s position is ultimately incoherent.  But rhetorically he has an advantage.  With every move you try to make, he can simply refuse to concede the assumptions you need in order to make it, leaving you constantly scrambling to find new footing.  He will in the process be undermining his own position too, because his skepticism is so radical it takes down everything, including what he needs in order to make his position intelligible.  But it will be harder to see this at first, because he is playing offense and you are playing defense.  It falsely seems that you are the one making all the controversial assumptions whereas he is assuming nothing.  Hence, while your position is in fact rationally superior, it is the skeptic’s position that will, perversely, appear to be rationally superior.  People bizarrely give him the benefit of the doubt and put the burden of proof on you.


This, I submit, is the situation defenders of traditional sexual morality are in vis-à-vis the proponents of “same-sex marriage.”  The liberal position is a kind of radical skepticism, a calling into question of something that has always been part of common sense, viz. that marriage is inherently heterosexual.  Like belief in the reality of the external world — or in the reality of the past, or the reality of other minds, or the reality of change, or any other part of common sense that philosophical skeptics have challenged — what makes the claim in question hard to justify is not that it is unreasonable, but, on the contrary, that it has always been regarded as a paradigm of reasonableness.  Belief in the external world (or the past, or other minds, or change, etc.) has always been regarded as partially constitutive of rationality.  Hence, when some philosophical skeptic challenges it precisely in the name of rationality, the average person doesn’t know what to make of the challenge.  Disoriented, he responds with arguments that seem superficial, question-begging, dogmatic, or otherwise unimpressive.  Similarly, heterosexuality has always been regarded as constitutive of marriage.  Hence, when someone proposes that there can be such a thing as same-sex marriage, the average person is, in this case too, disoriented, and responds with arguments that appear similarly unimpressive.


Like the skeptic about the external world (or the past, or other minds, or change, etc.) the “same-sex marriage” advocate typically says things he has no right to say consistent with his skeptical arguments.  For example, if “same-sex marriage” is possible, why not incestuous marriage, or group marriage, or marriage to an animal, or marriage to a robot, or marriage to oneself?  A more radical application of the “same-sex marriage” advocate’s key moves can always be deployed by a yet more radical skeptic in order to defend these proposals.  Yet “same-sex marriage” advocates typically deny that they favor such proposals.  If appeal to the natural ends or proper functions of our faculties has no moral significance, then why should anyone care about whether anyone’s arguments — including arguments either for or against “same-sex marriage” — are any good?  The “same-sex marriage” advocate can hardly respond “But finding and endorsing sound arguments is what reason is for!”, since he claims that what our natural faculties and organs are naturally for is irrelevant to how we might legitimately choose to use them.  Indeed, he typically denies that our faculties and organs, or anything else for that matter, are really for anything.  Teleology, he claims, is an illusion.  But then it is an illusion that reason itself is really for anything, including arriving at truth.  In which case the “same-sex marriage” advocate has no business criticizing others for giving “bigoted” or otherwise bad arguments.  (Why shouldn’t someone give bigoted arguments if reason does not have truth as its natural end?  What if someone is just born with an orientation toward giving bigoted arguments?)  If the “same-sex marriage” advocate appeals to current Western majority opinion vis-à-vis homosexuality as a ground for his condemnation of what he labels “bigotry,” then where does he get off criticizing past Western majority opinion vis-à-vis homosexuality, or current non-Western moral opinion vis-à-vis homosexuality?   Etc. etc.


So, the “same-sex marriage” advocate’s position is ultimately incoherent.  Pushed through consistently, it takes down everything, including itself.  But rhetorically it has the same advantages as Matrix-style skepticism.  The “same-sex marriage” advocate is playing offense, and only calling things into doubt — albeit selectively and inconsistently — rather than putting forward any explicit positive position of his own, so that it falsely seems that it is only his opponent who is making controversial assumptions.


Now, no one thinks the average person’s inability to give an impressive response to skepticism about the external world (or about the reality of the past, or other minds, etc.) makes it irrational for him to reject such skepticism.  And as it happens, even most highly educated people have difficulty adequately responding to external world skepticism.  If you ask the average natural scientist, or indeed even the average philosophy professor, to explain to you how to refute Cartesian skepticism, you’re not likely to get an answer that a clever philosopher couldn’t poke many holes in.  You almost have to be a philosopher who specializes in the analysis of radical philosophical skepticism really to get at the heart of what is wrong with it.  The reason is that such skepticism goes so deep in its challenge to our everyday understanding of notions like rationality, perception, reality, etc. that only someone who has thought long and carefully about those very notions is going to be able to understand and respond to the challenge.  The irony is that it turns out, then, that very few people can give a solid, rigorous philosophical defense of what everyone really knows to be true.  But it hardly follows that the commonsense belief in the external world can be rationally held only by those few people.


The same thing is true of the average person’s inability to give an impressive response to the “same-sex marriage” advocate’s challenge.  It is completely unsurprising that this should be the case, just as it is unsurprising that the average person lacks a powerful response to the Matrix-style skeptic.  In fact, as with commonsense realism about the external world, so too with traditional sexual morality, in the nature of the case relatively few people — basically, traditional natural law theorists — are going to be able to set out the complete philosophical defense of what the average person has, traditionally, believed.  But it doesn’t follow that the average person can’t be rational in affirming traditional sexual morality.  (For an exposition and defense of the traditional natural law approach, see “In Defense of the Perverted Faculty Argument,” in Neo-Scholastic Essays.)


Indeed, the parallel with the Matrix scenario is even closer than what I’ve said so far suggests, for the implications of “same-sex marriage” are very radically skeptical.  The reason is this: We cannot make sense of the world’s being intelligible at all, or of the human intellect’s ability to understand it, unless we affirm a classical essentialist and teleological metaphysics.  But applying that metaphysics to the study of human nature entails a classical natural law understanding of ethics.  And that understanding of ethics in turn yields, among other things, a traditional account of sexual morality that rules out “same-sex marriage” in principle.  Hence, to defend “same-sex marriage” you have to reject natural law, which in turn requires rejecting a classical essentialist and teleological metaphysics, which in turn undermines the possibility of making intelligible either the world or the mind’s ability to understand it.  (Needles to say, these are large claims, but I’ve defended them all at length in various places.  For interested readers, the best place to start is, again, with the Neo-Scholastic Essays article.)


Obviously, though, the radically skeptical implications are less direct in the case of “same-sex marriage” than they are in the Matrix scenario, which is why most people don’t see them.  And there is another difference.  There are lots of people who believe in “same-sex marriage,” but very few people who seriously entertain the Matrix hypothesis.  But imagine there was some kind of intense sensory pleasure associated with pretending that you were in the Matrix.  Suppose also that some people just had, for whatever reason — environmental influences, heredity, or whatever — a deep-seated tendency to take pleasure in the idea that they were living in a Matrix-style reality.  Then, I submit, lots of people would insist that we take the Matrix scenario seriously and some would even accuse those who scornfully rejected the idea of being insensitive bigots.  (Compare the points made in a recent post in which I discussed the special kind of irrationality people are prone to where sex is concerned, due to the intense pleasure associated with it.)


So, let’s add to my original scenario this further supposition — that you are not only surrounded by people who take the Matrix theory seriously and scornfully dismiss your arguments against it, but some of them have a deep-seated tendency to take intense sensory pleasure in the idea that they live in the Matrix.  That, I submit, is the situation defenders of traditional sexual morality are in vis-à-vis the proponents of “same-sex marriage.”   Needless to say, it’s a pretty bad situation to be in.


But it’s actually worse even than that.  For suppose our imagined Matrix skeptic and his followers succeeded in intimidating a number of corporations into endorsing and funding their campaign to get the Matrix theory widely accepted, to propagandize for it in movies and television shows, etc.  Suppose mobs of Matrix theorists occasionally threatened to boycott or even burn down bakeries, restaurants, etc. which refused to cater the meetings of Matrix theorists.  Suppose they stopped even listening to the defenders of commonsense realism, but just shouted “Bigot!  Bigot!  Bigot!” in response to any expression of disagreement.  Suppose the Supreme Court of the United States declared that agreement with the Matrix theory is required by the Constitution, and opined that adherence to commonsense realism stems from an irrational animus against Matrix theorists.


In fact, the current position of opponents of “same-sex marriage” is worse even than that.  Consider once again your situation as you try to reason with Matrix theorists and rebut their increasingly aggressive attempts to impose their doctrine via economic and political force.  Suppose that as you look around, you notice that some of your allies are starting to slink away from the field of battle.  One of them says: “Well, you know, we have sometimes been very insulting to believers in the Matrix theory.  Who can blame them for being angry at us?  Maybe we should focus more on correcting our own attitudes and less on changing their minds.”  Another suggests: “Maybe we’ve been talking too much about this debate between the Matrix theory and commonsense realism.  We sound like we’re obsessed with it.  Maybe we should talk about something else instead, like poverty or the environment.”  A third opines: “We can natter on about philosophy all we want, but the bottom line is that scripture says that the world outside our minds is real.  The trouble is that we’ve gotten away from the Bible.  Maybe we should withdraw into our own faith communities and just try to live our biblically-based belief in external reality the best we can.”


Needless to say, all of this is bound only to make things worse.  The Matrix theory advocate will smell blood, regarding these flaccid avowals as tacit admissions that commonsense realism about the external world really has no rational basis but is simply a historically contingent prejudice grounded in religious dogma.  And in your battle with the Matrix theorists you’ll have discovered, as many “same-sex marriage” opponents have, that iron law of politics: that when you try to fight the Evil Party you soon find that most of your allies are card-carrying members of the Stupid Party.


So, things look pretty bad.  But like the defender of our commonsense belief in the external world, the opponent of “same-sex marriage” has at least one reliable ally on his side: reality.  And reality absolutely always wins out in the end.  It always wins at least partially even in the short run — no one ever is or could be a consistent skeptic — and wins completely in the long run.  The trouble is just that the enemies of reality, though doomed, can do a hell of lot of damage in the meantime.”


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One thought on “Marriage and The Matrix

  1. Pingback: Poly-parenting: on the Horizon | judicialsupport

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