Nature: From Order to Mechanism and then Feminism and Other BS

It seems clear to me that the modern day sickness afflicting the West today, with its moral scepticism, feminism and liberalism, stems from the abandonment of the pre-modern Christian worldview, particularly its emphasis on nature and the natural order. Let me explain.

Nature and the natural order was once seen as immanently ordered, purposed-driven, reasoned, moral, and hierarchical. God was the ruler of all things and all things were, ultimately, dependent upon Him and existing for Him. That applies to mankind, too. We were created with an objective purpose; our bodies and sex were understood to be immanently ordered and structured with reason, pointing to divine wisdom and goodness. On this worldview, reason, order and purpose is seen everywhere within nature and the world, and it is our job, as individuals and society, to conform ourselves to our natural and supernatural ends, for that is what is reasonable and good, sanctioned by none other than God Himself.

But things changed. The modern worldview does not see purpose immanent in nature, taking no spiritual meaning from nature’s orderliness. In fact, that orderliness is largely understood in terms of blind natural law and mechanism, which is without purpose, immanent order, moral order, and reason. The privileged narrative of human creation is evolution, which explains the existence of human life as one that evolved through mechanism and natural selection, without any reference to God. The picture it depicts then, the null curriculum, is that man is an accidental byproduct of natural forces and mechanism, and so his existence and body is without objective purpose and meaning. That’s nature in the modern world—mechanistic and nihilistic. What about its social aspects?

The social sphere of the modern West has been largely secularized: Authority to govern is not granted by God, but by the consent of the people; the insistence of “public reason” has pushed out religious premises and ideas; and natural law, the divine footprint in judicial and moral philosophy, has lost its footing and credence. But why? Well, with consideration to natural law, I propose that natural law has lost its footing and credence because nature and the natural order lost its authority, for they were both gutted of their immanent orderliness, goodness and divine reason, left with just accident and mechanism. Hence, natural law lost its normative force.

That is why it is no historical accident that popular feminism didn’t emerge until after the Newtonian Revolution, the Darwinian hypothesis of evolution and during philosophical modernism. Before that time, the prevalent conception of nature and the natural order wouldn’t allow for it. During that time, it was understood that women belonged in the home and with the children, not because of social oppression, or because men are dicks, but because that was their natural role, which is why they are gifted with the bodies and virtues of mothers. That is to say, it was understood that the bodies and virtues of women are objectively for motherhood, and it is within motherhood that the objective good and proper end for women rests. Likewise, it was also understood that contraception interfered with the natural end of sex, giving illicit autonomy over the body and natural order. Hence, contraception was condemned because there was an recognition that sex is objectively purposed for making babies. Thus, interference with that end was understood to be unnatural, a perversion. But once nature was mechanized, once nature lost its reason and sanctity, all of this went out the window. Under the Baconian spirit, nature, bodies and the natural order were then taken as objects to conquer and control, objects over which we had soverignity. And so it is within this sense that feminism is a rebellion against nature and the natural order, which is ultimately a form of self-idolatry. I do not say so because feminists explicitly see themselves as gods, no. Instead, I say this because, in desiring sovereignty over nature and the natural order, feminists seek to be like God. That’s one red pill for you.

Anyways, this rebellion against nature continues, and it is not isolated to feminism. Polygamy. Homosexual acts. Abortion. Transgenderism. Fat Feminism. Sterilization. Euthanasia. IVF. Transhumanism. In each case, autonomy over nature and the triumph of the will is at the helm. What’s sad is that most westerners, even the defenders of tradition, have lost sense of nature and the natural order, and so they don’t know how to respond to these developments, aside from an intuition that they’re perversions. And they are perversions, no doubt. But without the metaphysics, philosophy of nature and natural law theory, these intuitions exist as branches without their supporting trunk and roots, taking the appearance of cultural bigotry rather than the products of real philosophy. Thus, we are losing the arguments and the cultural war, not because we’re wrong, but because we’re are unprepared – we don’t even know that we need to challenge the undergirding and prevalent concepts of nature and the natural order.

In any case, my point here is that liberals like to think that these social developments (perversions, really) are signs of progress and consequences of greater learning. I don’t think so. I think they’re consequences of a transition in how we think about nature, a transition in thought that has not had its due debate. So rather than continue debate with feminists that presume contrary ideas to our own, it is time we challenge them with the deeper questions about nature itself.

 

18 Comments

  1. If you could establish that there was something like an immanent orderliness in nature, then I think your points would ring more true. That’s definitely a very coherent presentation.

    There are a few responses worth noting:

    1. Nature is not orderly in terms of itself as we thought it was and what we mean by order is inclusive of a whole new set of concepts derived from physics. This is not to say that order is not possible, but it needs rethinking even from those that accept natural law.

    1a: Also there are non-theistic forms of natural law theory too, and simply finding some principle of orderliness in nature doesn’t necessarily entail that theistic natural law theory is true.

    2. Immanent orderliness of physical laws, even if true, might not entail the orderliness of moral concepts and even if there is an order to moral concepts, then some other moral theory may be extension of that orderliness. For instance, our moral psychology could be so ordered that the utilitarian assumption that as practical reasoners we prefer pleasure over pain is true and it’s this insight and not the theological interpretation of that orderliness that should be the basis of moral theorizing.

    3. I think the strongest critique of your position is the most dangerous aspect of natural law theory. We tend to naturalize our own biases and become convinced that our biases are natural. We enshrine them into thinking them so absolute and project them as the very basis for the universe. Non-hetero conforming aspects of sexuality can be seen in over four hundred vertebrate species so it’s not that clear that homosexuality isn’t natural*. It may well be part of human nature–if there is such a thing as human nature.

    4. Moral principles might not function in the way they are modeled in natural law theory. Most NLT advocates are generalists about moral principles when moral particularism might be more true about the role that principles play.

    5. Right and wrong-making properties might not be captured by deontological considerations, but best spelled out by consequentialist approaches to morality. 5 can still be true if nature is immanently ordered.

    • I’ll make a series of posts arguing for this conception of nature; but, for what it is worth, I don’t need to justify this conception of nature to successfully show that feminism came about from this transition in thought, which means, then, that modern feminism has deeper philosophical conditions than those typically thought.

  2. Jim,

    I don’t want to speak on behalf of Catholic Hulk — he may not agree with the formulation of natural law I will cite — but when he writes of nature and natural ends he largely is referring to substantial forms and immanent final causes. So I don’t see 1 or 2 and bringing up physics as particularly relevant, especially because physics, strictly speaking, does not deal in metaphysics. It assumes some view of metaphysics, but I don’t see how discoveries in quantum mechanics, for example, cast doubt on Aristotelian teleology without some form of argument.

    Likewise, 4 and 5 seem far afield from the post’s topic. So I don’t feel compelled to engage you here about them…

    • Where I will pick a bone with you is 3, which I think to be the most interesting but way off base of your objections. There are two things in particular I want to address:

      1) If by bias, you mean predisposition to some particular action, in this case sexuality, I don’t see this tendency you speak of as a flaw in the philosophy but so much humans generally. If I’m understanding what to which you’re alluding correctly, you’re wary of the possibility of atrocities or oppression that have been justified by people citing these rigid philosophies with their certain claims of absolute truth about the universe….

    • But I don’t see how you can judge a philosophy true or false by its abuse. Just because Thomistic natural law finds homosexuality immoral or against God’s will, it does not follow the philosophy of Aquinas or theism itself is any less true or false because people have done horrible things to homosexuals in the name of God while all believing Aquinas was right. On the contrary, I don’t think what you fear is “the most dangerous aspect of natural law theory” because it’s not an aspect of it but rather human fallibility or psychology. So your apprehension grossly misses the mark…

    • 2) As for your invocation of the observation of homosexuality in nature, I believe it too also rests on a misunderstanding of both Aquinas and what science has discovered about homosexuality in the animal kingdom, as I understand it. For Aquinas, we have a “natural inclination to sexual union and the rearing of offspring and this goes beyond any conscious desire we may have,” to quote Ed Feser. Conscious desires can diverge from natural inclinations, as Aquinas realizes — it’s the fulfillment of the conscious desires that frustrate the natural ends of our faculties, which isn’t permitted.

      When animals, like bonobos or dolphins, engage in homosexual acts, it not at all clear that they’re frustrating their natural inclinations in the same manner homosexual humans do. Human homosexual coupling is an attempt at romantic pair bonding like heterosexual coupling. They do it because they’re alleged to be “born that way” and “didn’t choose their sexuality.” That, homosexuality is just another “flavor or ice cream,” so the metaphor goes…

    • Science is mute about whether animal homosexuality is analogous to human homosexuality in these regards. It’s just anthropomorphization and projecting one’s progressive political leanings in zoological study. I’m highly skeptical that these acts are considered normative by animals in the sense that they’re considered just an alternate form of coupling within the spectrum of accepted social behaviors within a species. They may be accepted, but there doesn’t seem to be evidence that their function in animal social relations is anywhere near as important, let alone qualitatively equivalent or similar to, mating for reproduction as the LGBT lobbies claims homosexuality is in relation to heterosexuality is in humans.

  3. Sorry for my comment being in five parts, but for some reason the “post comment” button disappears down the screen if my comment reaches a certain length. So I had to break it up. I don’t know if I have to update my browser or do some other form of maintenance.

  4. Let’s say that there is a moral order, and let’s even say that this order is due to divine providential wisdom by some plausible description of that phrase. You still don’t get the full set of biblical prescriptions that Christians tend to have on offer. This hangup about non-hetero sexualities isn’t going to work because the arguments from design or moral order to prohibitions on such things are quite clearly much too stretched and easily subject to misuse. Misusing natural-ends reasoning, we end up with humans as gene-replication machines, the sort of troubling normative conclusion you say can only be avoided by appeal to non-mechanistic-only explanations of our place in the cosmos, but it follows from your version of natural-ends reasoning and is entirely consistent with divine foreknowledge of our evolution. Real human flourishing on the other hand isn’t limited to some (ethically arbitrary) reproductive telos, and even if there are teloi in nature and we can speak of the purely biological telos of our reproductive functions, it still won’t get you to morally plausible prescriptions. As nature or the Lord would have it, we flourish best in accordance with the specific requirements of our psyches, which in humans is emergent in rough proportion to what’s up there in the prefrontal cortex, not in the back part of the brain we share with all the other sentient species who don’t possess the rich psychic life that we humans do. In an Aristotelian framework of understanding, the lives led by the likes of the great philosophers, scientists, statesmen, athletes, and other moral/ethical exemplars aren’t plausibly judged in terms of whether they fulfilled the reproductive telos insisted upon in supposedly orthodox Christianity. What makes us distinctively human, what enables performance of distinctively human living activities, is not in the gonads.

    (note to JS4: from the comment box you would need to hit tab a few times until you’re at the “post comment” button)

    • Ultimate Philosopher,

      A couple of things:

      In responding to Jim, I didn’t realize I was trying to justify “the full set of biblical prescriptions” — whatever that means. I was only defending one controversial metaphysical thesis about Aristotelian teleology-inspired nature law, not also whether theism is true, let alone Christian theism. Those subjects are beyond the scope of this post and thread.

      Moreover, did I ever assert that “human flourishing” is “limited to some (ethically arbitrary) reproductive telos”? No, I didn’t, and I don’t think any natural lawyer worth his salt reduces human flourishing down to reproduction. We have many faculties, and being the sort of things that they are, each differentiated from the other, they’re ordered to certain ends. So no, it’s not all about the sexy-time.

      Nor is it arbitrary. According to the natural lawyer, it is by reason which we recognize what the proper ends of our faculties and being are. Much of the moral law can be learned without aid from divine revelation.

      I also agree that we’re essentially a rational animal. Yes, we have rational faculties that are ordered to certain ends such as an inclination to the truth. But there are faculties related to the animal part of ourselves that are ordered toward our flourishing. Reproduction and digestion fall within this too.

      Thanks for the tip about posting. Hopefully it works now…

    • JS,
      My initial reply was directly in response to the original posting. I take the Catholic position on these matters to be something like: We can discover via the natural light of reasoning many of the same things that are revealed in scripture, in which case (“of course”) from the natural light of reason using some Aristotelian-Thomistic tools, we end up discovering that homosexuality (e.g.) is a misuse of a faculty naturally ordered (even teleologically ordered, without getting too extravagant with our teleology) toward reproduction. The limitation of this approach observed by the Catholic would be that natural-law reasoning should also avoid the pitfalls of scientism. But I don’t know how you do that – or at least to get a result from such an approach that is distinguishable from a result of a scientistic one – in a case like this if we start appealing to biological functions. Once you start doing that, it’s hard to avoid bringing in the observations of the sciences about our biological picture. We want to be able to identify an is-ought relationship within the teleologically ordered nature – scientism strictly speaking won’t get you to normativity – but if we go that route the science does creep in, and I think unavoidably. And the biological picture says that our function or telos qua human beings is subserviant to a biological “imperative” operating at the genetic level. Recent theorists have spoken in terms of things like “inclusive fitness” which may or may not tell the whole story there, but it looks like an inescapable fact that we are organized the way we are, we were naturally selected toward the form we have, because of our suitability for preserving and passing on a genetic line.

      Now that doesn’t really coincide well with our ordinary ethical understanding of things; why would such a genetic picture dictate our normative-life picture? It shouldn’t, but unrestricted appeals to natural ends or teleology seem to lead us only to there. Maybe there is need for restrictions, but what would those be without getting ad hoc? (The natural-end theorist will say that the eye is ordered toward seeing, so what’s wrong with that? Well, the eye is ordered toward seeing so that food can be better gathered and predators better avoided so that … the genetic material can be preserved and replicated. The sexual function itself is ordered with its “telos” being dictated within this genetic-replication picture. The Thomist would have it that this ordering is all in accordance with God’s plan rather than with the requirements of “the selfish gene.” But the science tells us that it is the latter, and whatever the Thomists do they don’t want to advance arguments that would *contravene* the scientific picture. (We’ll leave that to the fundamentalist Islamists or whatnot.))

      The problem here seems to be that from the ethical standpoint, the rationale or criteria for natural ends don’t give us plausible explanatory answers. From the Aristotelian living-well metaethical standpoint, genetic fitness might come in incidentally. (To say that genetic fitness is indeed a manifestation of God’s plan for us after all sounds a little suspicious.) If unrestricted natural-ends reasoning gets us to an implausible ethical and metaethical picture, then where do we get plausible norms? From a somewhat restricted application of natural-ends reasoning? If you go *that* route, you risk ending up with normative conclusions that don’t prohibit using one’s sexual functions in some way other than that ordered toward genetic fitness.

      (OTOH, what if we go the “one man’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens route,” or some variation on that, and apply the genetic-fitness criterion for normativity whole-hog, and this leads to something like “homosexuality is a manifestation of genetic fitness at a group level of fitness,” in which case it becomes normatively fine even within the natural-ends analysis. Would that be satisfactory to the Thomist? It does away with a certain cherished prohibition, keeps normativity, and revises the meta-ethical picture in such a way that the things we ordinarily take to be normatively prescribed or forbidden are in fact well-ordered after all toward genetic fitness. You might even get a traditional Aristotelian virtue-ethics out of that framework just yet, perhaps? Buggery ok after all, but flouting the requirements of our spiritual nature, which have their justification by reference to genetic fitness, not ok. So perhaps we end up with the right answers after all, but for reasons we didn’t realize until science recently told us.)

      OTOH, we might pare down the natural-ends reasoning somewhat, restrict its application, to take into account the uniquely special features of the human psyche. The human cognitive faculty has, after all, an ends-setting character in its own right, it’s where we grasp the whole notion of ends in the first place (with natural ends being an extension of this). We might then say that normativity comes from *that* in some way or other, an approach that is probably more obviously Kantian than Aristotelian, if indeed they really diverge on this point. We might still keep the Aristotelian approach by ordering our ethical reasonings toward the end of living well, of satisfying needs as distinct from wants (with satisfaction of genuine needs being our “naturalistic” indicator of goodness, of living well). Maybe some combination of these two approaches will yield the best and most complete picture of how normativity operates within specifically human affairs. Maybe Korsgaard gets it more or less right, in ‘Sources of Normativity,’ which unavoidably makes some reference to our (biological) natures but is light on the traditional natural-ends-style reasoning.

      And so where does homosexuality fit within a living-well framework of ethical reasoning? The Thomists hold that homosexuality is necessarily detrimental to this, and that it is modernity or whatever that has clouded up our understanding of this. At what cost are they willing to maintain this thesis, however? Just *how important* to Thomists is the putative truth of a moral prohibition on homosexuality, ultimately? It doesn’t seem at all clear to me (for one) how abandoning such a prohibition would come at the cost of a plausible and binding normativity. If they would like to keep normativity but clearly orient their ethical theories toward the end of living well (a really good idea IMO!) then they have some work cut out for them in showing that homosexuality necessarily has negative impacts on living well. (I assume we understand and agree that human-living-well is not synonymous with using our capacities only toward the end that nature ordered them to within the genetic-fitness picture. Heck, couldn’t Thomists criticize a Kant for not even making an effort toward having children, not even *using* his reproductive faculty period, much less misusing it? I mean, heck, Kant was so concerned about possible misuse that he avoided self-pleasuring, something that a hardcore Thomist would presumably concur about. But that’s not much fun, is it? 😉 )

      Of course (surely?), an Aristotelian human-living-well normative framework will have any number of pieces of advice about how one would use one’s faculties *wisely*, responsibly, etc. Some misuses of those faculties will indeed lead to living less well, indeed without having to load up the term “well” so that lo and behold, homosexuality will really make someone miserable or less happy in real terms, like a pig satisfied rather than Socrates dissatisfied – but again, at what cost shall such a thesis be maintained? (And what about bisexuality? Will it make someone half-miserable? Half-piggish? Or what…?) Here’s where I think appeals to common sense as opposed to rather arcane interpretations of teleology will give us a better guide to living well/wisely whether it has to do with sexytimes or anything else where we have capacities with functions (how does music and its enjoyment contribute to genetic fitness? does it “abuse” one or more of our faculties? etc.). Functions do give us some normativity for sure, indeed we say that a sexual capacity that turns out to actually involve shooting blanks is a defective capacity. (If one is shooting blanks, is all sexual activity ruled out now? No more fun or pleasure there lest our eternal souls be imperiled? Let’s figure out the costs a Thomist is willing to incur to maintain a thesis; let’s definitely get that pinned down. 😉 ) It’s a normativity that, on its own (by reference to function), can only get us so far, however. In *some* sense we are using our capacities *well* as long as they are ordered and activated toward living well, and we can make ethical judgments on that basis. But given what we do know now about the biological-genetic picture wherein our existence and functions qua humans are explained, such normative-functional reasoning is constrained in scope – since specifically human normativity have to do with ethics whereas functions generally have to do with biology.

  5. The chief concern of the Aristotelian ethicist, the key questions, have to do with *living well*, and questions about the use of one’s reproductive functions, while not at all irrelevant, are subordinate to this. Christians do need (and the Aristotelian tradition does provide) a conception of human nature in order to know what humans require in order to *live well*. A set of stodgy-sounding universal prohibitions or do-nots (having unsurprisingly to do with sex) don’t seem to work all that well in this context. For Aristotle and Rand the most general prescriptions have to do with using one’s reasoning/thinking/intellect well, although the particulars have to be worked out through experience or perhaps fictionalized depictions. The Christian already has the moral exemplar in Jesus and while it isn’t clear that sexual ethics was a key preoccupation there, it is clear from the Aristotelian-Randian tradition that the main preoccupation is how well one is using one’s intellect.

  6. “But I don’t see how you can judge a philosophy true or false by its abuse. Just because Thomistic natural law finds homosexuality immoral or against God’s will, it does not follow the philosophy of Aquinas or theism itself is any less true or false because people have done horrible things to homosexuals in the name of God while all believing Aquinas was right. On the contrary, I don’t think what you fear is “the most dangerous aspect of natural law theory” because it’s not an aspect of it but rather human fallibility or psychology. So your apprehension grossly misses the mark…”

    Well, there are few things to say to that. My position on the the problem of truth is pragmatic. An idea gives rise to habits of action, and if the habits of action enhance our experience of the world (Dewey, James, Peirce and Bergson), then it’s true. The pragmatists also have an entire critique of metaphysics and representationalism that would derail our discussion, so now you “can see how you can judge a philosophy true or false by its abuse” because… it’s the consequences of an idea that entail its truth.

    My apprehension of Thomistic natural law is based on conceptions of nature that are not philosophically robust in their explanatory power, which again echoes the pragmatic naturalism from above. At some point, moral psychology should try and incorporate actual empirical studies about human beings, yet that’s not what I think you want, you want to substitute and privilege a view of human nature that has no explanatory power in much the same way substituting the Greek elements of earth, air, fire, and water for particles in physics would have no explanatory power for our experience of the world. Put more generally, you want to incorporate teleological concepts back into a concept of human nature that psychology via Ockham’s razor has eliminated or at the very least does not need (again, I imagine that would also need to be more specified, but I think that’s where this argument would wind up). So there’s a two-pronged dilemma. First, you need to show why the contemporary set of concepts about human nature from psychology are explanatorily incomplete (which is itself a huge burden) or you need to show why teleology is better than the set of contemporary stet of concepts you would replace.

    • Well, Jim,

      I don’t subscribe to a pragmatic theory of truth but a correspondence theory of truth. I think the vagueness in the phrase “enhance our experience of the world” within your pragmaticism ultimately relies on some ontic referent for its truth, viz. there’s something in the world that serves as a truthmaker for that which “enhance our experience of the world.” So I’m not sure how you can escape correspondence as so described. But we’re getting far afield here indeed.

      “…you want to substitute and privilege a view of human nature that has no explanatory power in much the same way substituting the Greek elements of earth, air, fire, and water for particles in physics would have no explanatory power for our experience of the world.”

      Well, of course I want to privilege a view of human nature because, like everyone else who puts forth a thesis, I think it’s true and has much more explanatory power than you give it credit for. To wit, noticing roots of a tree seem ordered toward anchoring it and drawing nutrients and water from the soil in virtue of the fact that they are roots and thusly constitute the tree’s flourishing seem hardly as counter-intuitive as you opine. Maybe, it’s not true, but it’s certainly more of a live option than the Greeks mistaking fire and water as the fundamental particles of reality.

      Could you specify which findings in psychology have refuted Thomistic natural law? Humor me, please.

    • [insert] “…tree’s flourishing. And then applying those conclusions to humans…”

  7. JS4,

    My browser is the same way, so I press tab and the post comment feature becomes available.

    <>

    The reason for the citation of higher-ordered vertebrates with sophisticated neural networks is that this is not just “anthropomorphization and projecting one’s progressive political leanings in zoological study”. Instead, it’s more about the fact that there’s a principle of continuity in nature and comparative physiology, primatology, and a host of other fields suggest a more complicated view of animals.

    The only point to take from these studies might be that non-hetero sexual behavior in animals might possibly mean that our view of human sexuality is too narrow. Of course, we can also understand this point in terms of the cultural genealogy of Foucault as well, but that’s coming from the direction of sampling various historical contexts as they have changed over time.

    • I still don’t see how you can draw normative conclusions from that continuity. Chimpanzees also practice cannibalism. Does that mean cannibalism in humans is normative too? Imagine if cannibals decided to politically organize, claim they were more with a innate predisposition toward cannibalism — that, their diet wasn’t a choice — and thereby morally there is no difference between veganism, omnivorism and cannibalism because gastronomy, like sexuality, is on spectrum. And their demands for civil rights protection against discrimination are in part justified by citing a principle of continuity “in nature and comparative physiology, primatology, and a host of other fields.” Would you find that reasoning persuasive? If not, why and how does it differ from what you’re inferring with homosexuality now?

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