Love Wins?

I recently read an article about an 18-year-old woman and her biological father. Reportedly, both of these individuals chose to enter into a sexual and romantic relationship with each other. Upon hearing of their choice, I was left disturbed, for as I see it, the kinds of love properly ordered for a father and his daughter is rigidly storge and agape. Hence, if a father and his daughter have erotic love (eros) for each other, then that love is disordered and their romantic relationship is a perversion of the father-daughter relationship. What helps make my view intelligible is that I understand eros to have an objective nature and order apart from the consent, will and feelings of lovers. On my view, any licit romance or sexual intimacy between two adults must conform to the nature and end of eros, a nature and end that is exclusive toward close family members.

Compare my background suppositions to the modern West. In this intellectual and cultural climate, objective natures and teleological reasoning is ignored, denied or forgotten. Consequently, the question of whether some experience of eros is properly ordered is not considered—we don’t ask what erotic love and sex are for. That is part of why the homosexual movement has been so successful in the modern West, for its impediment within the Christianized West was and remains to be the natural order, which is legitimized by God Himself. On this order, sex and erotic love are necessarily heteronormative; and so when the West lost awareness of this natural order, and once it secularized, the West also lost its reason to think that homosexual sex is wrong and homoerotic love is disordered. It’s like a great moral amnesia. Hence, the LGBT slogan “love wins” can now be paraded without public recognition of its absurdity, which just 100 years ago would have been publicly recognized as a confused perversion of what love and sex are.

Now consider incestuous relations. Without an objective teleology of erotic love that excludes incest, it is difficult to give good reason for the impropriety of incestuous relations between consenting adults. In fact, under the conditions of modern liberal sex ethics, such incestuous relations seem permissible, because these relations occur privately between consenting adults without obvious harm. Of course, we might find their conduct gross and weird, but under liberal consent theory, that is no reason to interfere with their sexual autonomy. So, love wins, right?

Or not. In fact, fuck that. If you’re like me, reader, then you know that such incestuous relations are wrong, period. But maybe you do not have a philosophy to support your belief or moral sense. If so, I invite you to consider conservatism about erotic love. I also invite you to consider a philosophy that grounds your conservatism, such as the classical natural law theories of the western intellectual heritage (see one here), so that you have a defensible argument against the perversions of sexual liberalism. This is not an invite for prudish or boring philosophy, where we are intrusive and overly moralistic. There is no need for that. Instead, this is an invite for moral sanity, where the idea of a father boning his daughter isn’t met with moral confusion or wonderment. Imagine that.[i]

[i] With the reference to homosexual sex and love, the point is not that if homosexual sex and homoerotic love is permissible, then so is incestuous sex and love. Instead, my point is that the moral confusion regarding the permissibility of homosexual and incestuous love is symptomatic of the rejection, negligence or forgetfulness of objective natures and teleological reasoning.


  1. Catholic Hulk,

    I’d like to make another suggestion to readers. You say:

    If you’re like me, reader, then you know that such incestuous relations are wrong, period. But maybe you do not have a philosophy to support your belief or moral sense. If so, I invite you to consider conservatism about erotic love.

    On the other hand, if a reader intuitively reckons that the relationship described in the OP is immoral, but also intuitively reckons that other sexual relationships and/or sexual behavior that conservatism about erotic love holds as immoral, are clearly not immoral, then I would suggest that the reader the possibility that conservatism about erotic be false (even if it gets some things right), even if other theories of erotic love are also false (even if they get some things right).

    Generally, when someone comes up with a general moral hypothesis (like liberal sexual ethics, or Catholic sexual ethics, etc.), accepting the hypothesis without testing it, and then applying it to individual cases even against our sense of right and wrong, would be like placing the cart before the horses. Rather, a way to test the theory is to see what it says about individual cases in which we have clear moral intuitions, and see whether the theory matches them. There are other issues involved of course (e.g., what happens on the face of vast disagreement), but still, one should test theories before accepting them.

    In fact, when you bring up the incest case, you’re doing just that – you’re testing a theory that allegedly implies it’s not wrong, or inviting readers to test it by their own sense of right and wrong.

    Nothing wrong with testing moral theories in that fashion – in fact, I would say that’s generally proper, with the caveat I will consider later -, but I would invite readers to test conservatism on the following cases:

    1. Divorce and remarriage. Are divorcees behaving immorally if they have sex with someone other than their ex?
    2. Consensual sex by an unmarried couple, not related to each other, and both adults.
    3. Non-reproductive sex between husband and wife, e.g., he uses a condom and/or she takes the pill, or engage in sexual behaviors that involve no pain, injury, etc., and will surely not result in reproduction.
    4. Masturbation.

    Conservatism says all of those behaviors are immoral (the Catholic version, at least, but that is probably the version you believe in). I would ask readers: “What does your sense of right and wrong says?”
    As for other versions of conservatism, or of other general moral hypotheses, different hypotheses make different claims, and one should assess them on a case by case basis, but – in general -, the way to test them is to use one’s own sense of right and wrong – which, again, is what you are proposing.

    Now, all that said, our sense of right and wrong is imperfect, so one should also consider the possibility that one’s sense of right and wrong is failing on a specific case. That makes matters complicated, especially given that we do not have any alternative means of making such assessments: there is our own sense of right and wrong, the senses of right and wrong of other people, and theories – but theories need to be tested before being accepted, and testing is done…against one’s sense of right and wrong, or at most, against the senses of right and wrong of other people.

    Still, one way to try to resolve the problem is to figure out (based on our own history) whether our moral intuitions on a specific matter have resulted from indoctrination on a doctrine that was not properly tested (whether Marxism, Catholicism, or whatever), or whether there’s likely ingroup-outgroup bias at play, and in case of reasonable doubt, exclude those cases and and try to test moral theories in cases in one is unable to find reason to reasonably suspect that one’s intuitions are failing. That would increase the chances of success, even if there are no perfect methods (e.g., what if one’s probabilistic assessment, one’s assessment of reasonable doubts, etc., is also failing? But one can’t look at things from a perspective beyond one’s own faculties).
    If there are no such cases, then it seems to me one should generally not come to believe that the theory is false or that it’s true, but rather, generally remain undecided until one is in a position to make a better assessment (I’m simplifying here, because there might be other options in specific situations, but generally).

    • I am pretty sure that Angra sits on his computer, staring and constantly refreshing, waiting for my next blog post.

  2. The Bible is very perspicous about male-female sexual relations. One doesn’t need to develop a sophisticated ethical framework to understand this. Unsophisticated and uneducated shepherds and plow boys have understood it for literally millenia.

    Quote: “Scripture recognizes three distinct types of male-female relationships—the “family” relationship, the “marriage” relationship, and the “neighbor” relationship (by “neighbor” we mean anyone who is neither a blood relative or a spouse). We mark these as distinct relationships based on the observation that each relationship carries with it an explicit sexual ethic. The Levitical sexual codes (Leviticus 18) clearly prohibit sexual relationships between blood relatives. And all throughout Scriptures (Proverbs, Song of Songs, 1 Corinthians 7) we see that sexual relations within marriage are not only permissible, but commanded.

    Likewise, the sexual ethic of the “neighbor relationship” is detailed in 1 Corinthians 7:9 and 1 Timothy 5:2—namely, that sexual activity is prohibited. We go into this in more detail in the book, but the crucial observation here is that the sexual boundary for all non-married relationships is complete abstinence. And this doesn’t mean only abstinence from sexual intercourse, but abstinence from all sexual activity.” – Gerald Hiestand

    But most people don’t like to hear or obey God’s Word.

  3. Even if lesbian incest is wrong, can we at least agree to agree that it’s hot (if the participants are hot)? Or does wrongness preclude hotness?

    More seriously (that is, while lesbianism [between hot participants] is hot, lesbian incest may be a tad troubling even if the participants are hot), how do you avoid the impression that you’re over-using biological teleology, using it as a cudgel to bash over the heads of the more culturally permissive? Since presumptively homoerotic love neither picks your pocket nor breaks your leg, what do we accomplish with all this anti-homoeroticism? And given how philosophically contentious theistic tenets are, how far do you expect to get in the public sphere with them?

    Here’s one thing that I think needs to be taken into account: there’s this very powerful sexual drive hardwired into animals (including humans), it has to be there for the species to perpetuate itself, but insofar as it isn’t being specifically applied to procreation or even within a committed marriage bond, it is usually almost certain to seek outlets in one way or another. Repression of this drive almost certainly brings negative repercussions. Given these sorts of considerations, we should strive to avoid what I will term *rationalism* about sex (and a whole lot of other things while we’re at it…). You’ve got this technically well-worked out theory about something, but how well does it work out in the real world among real people, especially those other than oneself? Now, if we “reject traditional sexual morality” (say, a highly biblical one – although weren’t there incestuous acts in the Bible as well?), the “worst-case scenario” we might imagine is full-on licentious fornication, perhaps public even (I mean, in this imagined worst-case scenario, aren’t even the no-public-sex traditionalists scoffed at as being too uptight?), perhaps a number of other debauched and debased activities being normalized.

    And of course there are slippery slopes to the worst-case scenarios that should have us all frightened. I mean, once we say “let’s not exclude Marquis de Sade’s input from the dialectic,” is it a slippery slope to sexual and presumably overall moral decadence and degradation? (Are we to think that Sade has no grain-of-truth input to offer for dialectical synthesis? Okay, he went overboard, but apparently in reaction to some rather uptight repression. He was like the original shock jock.)

    It appears that you along with many other conservatives are concerned that if sexual morals are loosened up, everything else gets loosened up. Whole conceptual frameworks (e.g., those involving teleology) get upset, and conceptual and moral confusions run rampant. Is that the chief concern here? From normalization of buggery the stage is set for the downfall of Western civ? I don’t want to open the door to conceptual and ethical anarchy, but I also think there’s such a thing as being way uptight (and especially about others’ private behaviors).

    I’ve run out of things to add for now. (Damn, only 3 comments on that Affirmative Action thread? I thought that one was a gem.)

    • but I also think there’s such a thing as being way uptight (and especially about others’ private behaviors).

      This may be the case, but this should be a matter of prudential judgement. Having the correct moral theory does not necessarily require that everything immoral be illegal, but it does require that the government not advocate and support what is disordered (e.g. same-sex marriage).

  4. I agree SSM is disordered, and as a Christian I have a framework for this belief. Christian theism grants a fully-orbed worldview that makes sense of all of existence and all relationships.

    Since the God of the Bible is the Creator of everything that exists outside of Himself, it’s only reasonable that He is also the definer of existence.

    Problem is fallen human beings (foolishly) think themselves autonomous and think they have the equipment necessary to define existence apart from the Creator.

    But the irony is they destroy reason and intelligibility in the process. When each individual is “god” unto himself, it’s no wonder things run amok, and it’s no surprise that sexual sin takes center stage because it’s a particularly besetting sin for depraved people to indulge in, which is why God issues so many warnings about uncontrolled licentiousness in His Word.

    He’s not trying to keep people from “having fun”, he’s pointing them to the exit of a burning building that will consume them if they don’t flee from it.

    Fallen people end up absolutizing some part of the creation when they deny the Creator, and end up worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. Read Romans chapter 1 for the state of fallen humanity, and keep on reading for God’s solution to the problem.

  5. Dear Catholic Hulk,

    I agree completely with your take here. But you assert that “any ilicit romance or sexual intimacy between two adults must conform to the nature and end of eros, a nature and end that is exclusive toward close family members.” I didn’t really see an argument in support of why exactly eros is exclusive to close family members. Is there some argument you could give? Or do you just appeal to a brute fact about the matter? I ask because the proponent of incest might simply assert the opposite, that eros has a nature that can include close family members. Just wondering how you might respond to this.


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