Thursday, December 23, 2004

Reproductive Duty?

Dallas, a commenter at Left2Right, argues:
If everyone were a homosexual, the species would become extinct. That simple fact forms a rational basis for discriminating against homosexuals (unless, of course, one does not give a damn about one's own species).

There are so many things wrong with this. For one, the premise isn't even true: gay people can still have children, just not with their preferred partner. Even if everyone was gay, I imagine there would still be many people who wanted children enough to do what's necessary to achieve that end.

More importantly, this is a ridiculous misapplication of Kantian-style reasoning. As Jason once put it (just replace 'marriage' with 'relationship'):
"But see, I don't for a moment believe that the principle behind gay marriage is to force all people into a gay marriage."

"I should hope not," she replied. "I like men far too much."

"It's a false derivation of principle, and exactly the problem with the Categorical Imperative. So all of this brings me to the other maxim that we might derive from the act of gay marriage, and it's one that I have to say I strongly prefer:

Let every couple be married who desires it, and let them spend the rest of their lives in a mutually supportive and faithful relationship, full of a deep, authentic, and abiding love.

This satisfies the Imperative quite nicely: Gay marriages and straight marriages both operate on the same principle, and this principle applies equally to all. If Immanuel Kant himself wouldn't necessarily have supported gay marriage, well, at least we might hope to bring around the latter-day Kantians."

Later in the thread Dallas responds to another commenter:
Dallas: I'm heterosexual and married, but my wife and I have chosen not to have children. If everyone were like us, the species would also become extinct. Should I be discriminated against too?

Yes. Selfish, narcissistic behavior should be discouraged, officially and unofficially.

Given how overpopulated the world is already, it seems a bit odd to call childless couples 'selfish'. Even more odd is the implication that one should have children out of a sense of duty. That's surely a recipe for disaster - what sort of a parent do you suppose would result?

I personally would love to have kids one day. But my motivation is not at all one of 'duty'. Rather, I genuinely want to have children (er, not any time soon, however!). One hopes most other would-be parents feel similarly. But given that we're just acting from our own preferences, isn't it a bit unreasonable to call those with different preferences 'selfish'? Yet this seems a fairly common attitude towards the childless (or so I gather from Butterflies & Wheels' old posts on the issue).

One can imagine (counterfactual) situations where perhaps it would be appropriate. If nobody wanted to have children, then we would have a genuine problem. If that were the case, then it would be appropriate to start talking of 'duty', as doing so could help us overcome the collective action problem. But at the moment, there is no collective action problem (or if there is, it's in the opposite direction)!

To highlight the absurdity, note that Dallas' logic implies that being an urban professional is immoral. After all, if everyone lived in the city, there would be no-one to grow crops, and we'd all starve.

But a strict adherence to universality neglects the value of individual differences and the benefits of specialization. Things will work out just fine if we accept the current diversity of preferences, and let people pursue their own ends as they see fit. So long as we have enough farmers, there's no need to admonish urbanites. Likewise, so long as we have enough voluntary parents to sustain the population, there is no obligation to reproduce.

30 comments:

  1. the problem is that while we want less people on earth the economics of an individual country are generally helped by having lots of children (population increaces tend towards the country being more influential and leaves more children to take care of the elderly) 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

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  2. If everyone was an accountant, the species would become extinct.

    If everyone was a doctor, the species would become extinct.

    If everyone was a teacher, the species would become extinct.

    Repeat until you grasp the principle.
     

    Posted by Jason Kuznicki

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  3. if everyone was a male the human race would be extinct - therefore no more males!!
    hmm sounds like a feminist chant... 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

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  4. Go back to what I said: "That simple fact forms a rational basis for discriminating against homosexuals (unless, of course, one does not give a damn about one's own species)."

    The point is this: One MAY rationally conclude that society should discriminate against homosexuals. It doesn't follow that I am saying society SHOULD discriminate. To read my remark in that fashion is to conclude that two opposing viewpoints cannot both be "rational."

    The upshot of this is that questions relating to homosexuality are political questions to be resolved by majority vote. These questions are unlike questions regarding racial or sexual discrimination, where no rational basis exists for discrimination. 

    Posted by Dallas

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  5. Breeding Populations? The value of a human life as long passed the point where an individual can be judged on reproductive potential. Many years ago I had one son and then a vasectomy while still in my middle twenties. Since my marriage had broken up I thought I was being responsible. Should I or anyone else not reproducing anymore be discriminated against? I realize that Dallas isn't saying exactly that, but since I've taken myself out of the gene pool, I've certainly contributed to the education and well being of hundreds of other people's children. Everyone in a free and open society has something to offer. Discrimination is discrimination however you hedge your language. Jason got it in his post. "If everybody was…" is something that will never happen and is ridiculous to even consider much less use as a basis for a value judgment. 

    Posted by OGeorge

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  6. 1. Discrimination is discrimination however you hedge your language.But, we discriminate all the time. E.g., we don't allow minors to vote (even though many of them are much more knowledgeable than many adults).

    2. I'm not suggesting it would be rational to discriminate against people on the basis of their reproductive potential. Many, if not most, homosexuals are fertile. I'm suggesting it's rational to discriminate against homosexuality because it does not serve the long-term interests of society.  

    Posted by Dallas

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  7. Dallas, you're failing to engage our counterarguments. (Did you even read my post?) Healthy pluralism is the key here.

    Having a moderately sized homosexual population is entirely consistent with the best interests of human society.

    Your entire argument rests on the idea that we can infer "X is bad" from "If everyone were X then there would be bad consequences". But that's a ridiculous inference.

    Like Jason said, "If everyone was a teacher, the species would become extinct." Do you think it is rational to discriminate against teachers? Do they somehow "not serve the long-term interests of society"? Your logic simply doesn't work. 

    Posted by Richard

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  8. Like Jason said, "If everyone was a teacher, the species would become extinct." Do you think it is rational to discriminate against teachers? Do they somehow "not serve the long-term interests of society"? Your logic simply doesn't work.
    Educators, physicians, and accountants fall within a class we call "professions" - those who perform specialized work deemed useful to society. It does not serve our purposes to discriminate against those performing useful work. [Nonetheless, we do it all the time by the imposition of a progressive income tax structure.]

    Quite obviously, "homosexual" does not fall within the same class. You are equating "sexual orientation" with "labor" - a gross error of categorizaton. I fail to see how the counterargument advances the discussion.
     

    Posted by Dallas

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  9. Having a moderately sized homosexual population is entirely consistent with the best interests of human society.This isn't a self-evident proposition. Please explain how it serves society's interests to have a moderately sized homosexual population.

    Does your proposition mean that it would be proper to discriminate against homosexuals if that population became "too large"? How many would be too many? If the population became too large, how would we stem further growth in the size of the population?  

    Posted by Dallas

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  10. "questions relating to homosexuality are political questions to be resolved by majority vote"

    No, they are not. Questions relating to homosexuality are questions of individual right, and individual rights are not subject to majority vote. We do not permit, or at least we should not permit, the majority to impose its religion on the minority, or to censor the expressions of the minority. The same principle applies here.

    As to the question of professions versus sexual orientation, you are right that doctors, teachers, and accountants all do valuable work, while homosexuals do not. A slight correction of the analogy is in order:

    If everyone always used birth control, the species would become extinct. Therefore no one should use birth control.

    If everyone always practiced oral sex, the species would become extinct. Therefore no one should practice oral sex.

    If everyone always practiced abstinence, the species would become extinct. Therefore no one should practice abstinence.

    The key is that, like all of these practices, homosexuality cannot be viewed as a serious threat to the continuance of the species, even in principle. 

    Posted by Jason Kuznicki

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  11. Questions relating to homosexuality are questions of individual right, and individual rights are not subject to majority vote. We do not permit, or at least we should not permit, the majority to impose its religion on the minority, or to censor the expressions of the minority. The same principle applies here.I'm not questioning the right of people to practice consensual sexual behaviors of their own choosing in privacy. The issue is whether there is a rational basis for discriminating against homosexuality. (The manner of discrimination is a different issue.)


    If everyone always practiced abstinence, the species would become extinct. Therefore no one should practice abstinence.I have not said that people should not engage in homosexual behaviors. For that reason, alone, this analogy fails. Your other ones fail for the same reason.

    My point, again, is that a rational basis exists for discrimination against homosexuality. The basis is: homosexuality does not serve the long-term interests of society. Perhaps you would like to attempt to offer an explanation as to how homosexuality serves society's long-term interests?

     

    Posted by Anonymous

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  12. The last post was by me. I forgot to attach the personal information before hitting "post." 

    Posted by Dallas

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  13. "Please explain how it serves society's interests to have a moderately sized homosexual population."

    I said it was consistent with society's interests. Homosexuality doesn't do any harm, so there's no rational basis to discriminate against it.

    You were arguing it was harmful because if everyone were gay there would be bad consequences. But as we've repeatedly demonstrated (and you've repeatedly ignored), that's simply not a valid inference.

    Now, if (contrary to fact) there was a massive shortage of babies, then it might be appropriate for the state to encourage people - whether gay or straight - to reproduce. Like I said in the main post, we could meaningfully speak of a 'reproductive duty'. (In our present situation, however, there is no need and therefore no such duty.)

    Even then (and recall the real world is nowhere near this situation anyway), I don't think it would be appropriate to discriminate against all homosexuals. Rather, we might discriminate against those who failed to meet their reproductive obligations - again, whether they were gay or straight is irrelevant here.

    So even if we consider the 'worst case scenario' of a world entirely divorced from our own, your argument still doesn't really work. And it certainly doesn't work in the actual world, because of the 'healthy pluralism' issue you keep refusing to address.  

    Posted by Richard

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  14. "Homosexuality doesn't do any harm" rather then giveing us more people to worry about and more people to think about, it does alot.

    Homosexuality breeds uneasyness in the hearts of many. This is because we all feel wronged when some one of the same sex looks at us in a sexual way. Don't denie it. I have friends that are more "Out of the colest" then most of you are most likely willing to admit. They have all told me that it is weird when the other checks them out. But since i know someone on the other end of this neverending string of wires, is going to disagree with me. Most likely being a gay indivual them selfs, i will just say this. Fighting over this is stupid. We are all, most likely, set in our ways, no one here is going to say any thing that is going to change anothers mind. I just ask that you all think about the moarl lines of this.

    History is a great thing to learn from. Look at rome, why did it fall. Moral corruption. Do we want to see the USA broken in 20 years cause a small group of people ACTED there soul away.

    Chase Whittemore 

    Posted by Chase Whittemore

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  15. Homosexuality doesn't do any harm, so there's no rational basis to discriminate against it.

    The problem with this position, of course, is that you have already implicitly admitted that it might become problem. This was implicit in your assuming the stance that a moderately sized population was consistent with society's best interests.

    If a behavior might become a problem, it necessarily follows that society has a rational basis for discouraging that behavior.

    As in the case of numerous other behaviors that are discouraged without outright prohibition, such as measures to abate emissions asserted to cause global warming, where advocates explicitly rely upon the precautionary principle as basis for discrimination against emitters.
     

    Posted by Dallas

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  16. "you have already implicitly admitted that it might become [a] problem"

    Not at all. My point was that even if we grant for the sake of argument that universal homosexuality would be a bad thing, it's still no problem for us. And - to answer your current point - nor will it ever be, because universal homosexuality will never come to pass. (Seriously, do you think straight people will suddenly turn gay if the State doesn't treat us with favouritism?) So there's no need at all to take 'precautions' against it.

    "If a behavior might become a problem, it necessarily follows that society has a rational basis for discouraging that behavior."

    Homosexuality 'might' become a problem in the exact same sense that teaching 'might' become a problem. That is to say, it is an extremely weak sense of 'might', which isn't the least bit relevant to making decisions in the actual world. So, depending on how strong a sense of 'might' you had in mind, either the general rule quoted above is false, or the claim that "homosexuality might become a problem" is false.

    Lastly, pollution and global warming are examples of collective action problems (like the famous 'prisoners dilemma'), so we can justifiably appeal to 'duty' to try to overcome them. This is not the case in a healthy pluralism, however, where there is no need to get everyone to act in the exact same way. This is the point I've been making all along. Frankly, I'm getting sick of having to repeat myself. 

    Posted by Richard

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  17. Lastly, pollution and global warming are examples of collective action problems (like the famous 'prisoners dilemma'), so we can justifiably appeal to 'duty' to try to overcome them. This is not the case in a healthy pluralism, however, where there is no need to get everyone to act in the exact same way. This is the point I've been making all along. Frankly, I'm getting sick of having to repeat myself.Your healthy pluralism argument, as I understand it, boils down to this:


    But a strict adherence to universality neglects the value of individual differences and the benefits of specialization. Things will work out just fine if we accept the current diversity of preferences, and let people pursue their own ends as they see fit.I have not, and I do not, argue that society should take steps to "stamp out" homosexuality - to enforce universal heterosexuality. My basic contention has consistently been that a rational basis exists for discrimination - that one may reasonably conclude that it is within the bounds of propriety to treat homosexuals differently than heterosexuals.

    You have failed to explain how the "individual difference" of homosexuality has "value." You have failed to explain how "specialization" in homosexuality has "benefit." If homosexuality isn't "valuable" or "beneficial" to society in some significant manner, then the "pluralism" justification amounts to nothing more than a narcissistic contention that "anything goes" or "I am different; therefore, you must leave me alone and allow me to do what I want to do without any social consequences."



     

    Posted by Dallas

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  18. An addendum to the previous post:

    If non-discrimination against homosexuality is justified by healthy pluralism, why wouldn't polygamy be justified on the same ground?

     

    Posted by Dallas

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  19. I don't need to show a benefit. If you want to discriminate, the onus is on you to show a harm to provide your "rational [sic] basis". The one you've come up with here is based on poor logic, so is not rational at all.

    "If non-discrimination against homosexuality is justified by healthy pluralism, why wouldn't polygamy be justified on the same ground?"

    You seem to be having trouble following the logic of this debate. You suggested that we could infer from "If everyone were X then there would be bad consequences" to "X is bad / can be justifiably discriminated against". My point about pluralism is simply to show why that's a bad inference. It's not a positive case for non-discrimination. (I take it non-discrimination is the default position.) Rather, it's a counterargument which shows why your specific argument fails. (This leaves open the possibility that there is some OTHER argument against homosexuality which may fare better.)

    So polygamy is entirely irrelevant here. (Unless you want to argue something like "if everyone was polygamous the world would explode, therefore polygamy is wrong", in which case YES, the 'pluralism' counter would show why such an inference is a bad one.)

    As to the more general point of whether polygamy should be allowed, that depends on whether doing so (in the actual world, not the silly "if everyone did it" world) would be detrimental to society or not. If it does no harm, then presumably it should be allowed too. (You seem to be tipping your hand here anyway - if reproduction was really the reason for your anti-gay attitudes, why would you oppose polygamy? See the discussion here.)

    While we're so far off-topic anyway, I might as well respond to Chase:

    "This is because we all feel wronged when some one of the same sex looks at us in a sexual way."

    Er, no. If another guy found me attractive, I'd be flattered, not offended. (At least I think so... it's never actually happened so I suppose I can't be sure how I'd react.) It seems to me one would have to feel pretty insecure about their sexuality to feel 'wronged' by such a trivial event.

    Lastly, feeling "uneasy" or offended does not count as a harm. (Anyone who thinks otherwise really needs to read more J.S. Mill!) 

    Posted by Richard

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  20. > It seems to me one would have to feel pretty insecure about their sexuality to feel 'wronged' by such a trivial event.

    But to an extent a normal person does feel that way. Maybe a lesbian woman feels the same if a man looks at her in that way. Anyway it is possible to argue that it is irrelevant wether it is a result of insecurity or not . you just have to accept that some people are 'insecure" about their sexuality (whatever that means). 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

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  21. Here's the way it is, Ricardo. I didn't bring value and benefit into the discussion. You did - as part of your healthy pluralism contention. If you're going to define healthy pluralism as the protection of behaviors that have value or benefit to society and then rely upon healthy pluralism as a basis for society assuming a neutral stance toward homosexuality, then the burden is upon you to demonstrate that homosexuality fits within the behaviors worthy of healthy pluralism - especially since you have castigated me for ignoring your healthy pluralism argument. If you can't do that, then you might as well throw in the towel, cuz the emptiness of your argument has been exposed.

    My mentioning of polygamy is especially relevant. Healthy pluralism cannot be some sort of a catch-all that protects all behaviors on the fringes of the bell curve. There must be a standard by which society determines what will be tolerated and what won't be tolerated. The burden is on you to demonstrate why homosexuality should be distinguished from polygamy. Either that or you must admit that polygamy is also worthy, in your estimation, of neutral status. 

    Posted by Dallas

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  22. Dallas, I suggest you carefully re-read my previous comment, particularly the paragraph beginning: "You seem to be having trouble following the logic of this debate."

    (Hint: You've completely missed the point about 'pluralism'. It doesn't require explicit benefits, but simply a lack of harm. Further, I'm not using it as a positive argument, but rather a counter-argument. It highlights why your inference from "if everyone were X" is faulty. And that's what your entire argument was based on. You've done nothing to defend that inference, and without it, your argument fails. That's the way it is.)

    Just an advanced warning: I probably won't bother to reply again unless you actually come up with something new. My previous comments make all the necessary points, and I don't want to waste my time repeating them. 

    Posted by Richard

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  23. I think the quesiton at hand is not if it is wroung or right, because who can know that for sure? But why people are insacure. If we could all anwser that, maybe we could come to a better understanding of this incurity. And by understanding why we are that way, decide what is better for socity as a whole. I think that if you look to the past. To Rome. You will find that Homosexulity is not good for the whole. It is a selfish act to ask for spechil rights anyway, and when it hurts socity by doing so, the person is Wrounging something larger then him. He is in an act of treason to the state. 

    Posted by Chase Whittemore

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  24. Dallas claims: "1. Discrimination is discrimination however you hedge your language.But, we discriminate all the time. E.g., we don't allow minors to vote (even though many of them are much more knowledgeable than many adults)."

    But Dallas seems to be unfamiliar with everyday English usage, whereby discrimination, when condemned in the way under consideration, is usually shorthand for abitrary discrimination. But not allowing minors to vote (selecting qualified surgeons to perform surgery, using licenced electricians to fix the wiring, etc. etc.) is not arbitrary. 

    Posted by Immanuel Kant

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  25. To: His Excellency, King Ricardo I

    While I understand that you have a high-falutin' image of yourself as a student of philosophy and while I recognize that narcissistic arrogance runs rampant among the gliberals heirarchy, I'm nonetheless surprised by your patronizing tone. I had the impression you were capable of suppressing your majestic tendencies while mingling with the hoi polloi in the marketplace of ideas. Not wanting to unduly offend Your Highness, I'll just respond to one of your points, and then you can decide whether or not you will deign to descend again from your interplanetary throne as a Master of the Universe for further conversation.

    It matters not whether a proposition is posed as an argument or a counter-argument. A proposition is either sound or it is unsound. If one relies upon it, one has the burden to demonstrate its soundness.
     

    Posted by Dallas

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  26. But Dallas seems to be unfamiliar with everyday English usage . . . I was just sweeping the floor for those who are too lazy to express themselves with precision. 

    Posted by Dallas

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  27. *sigh* ... One last try then...

    Dallas, your argument rested on the harm of species extinction which would purportedly result from universal homosexuality. My response was that in the actual world (which is what matters here), there is no such harm. We are not in danger of being driven to extinction by homosexuals. Really, we're not. The current pluralism is quite sustainable in this regard.

    I wouldn't have thought it that hard an argument to follow. It's a pity you felt the need to resort to petty mockery. 

    Posted by Richard

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  28. We are not in danger of being driven to extinction by homosexuals. Really, we're not.No, we are not. I have not asserted that we were. We should consider why this is so. The reason is that heterosexuality has been and continues to be the predominant mode - a mode that leads - surprise, surprise - to reproduction of the species. Thus, ironically, homosexuals depend upon heterosexuals for the existence of a risk-free environment - an environment in which their sexual proclivities, and the behaviors that flow from them, present no present danger to society.

    Now, if one mode serves the long-term interests of society so exceptionally well that it enables society to tolerate other modes which do not serve the long-term interests of society (but which may serve the interests of particular individuals), I suggest that it is obviously rational for society to be biased in favor of the mode on which the happy state of affairs depends.



     

    Posted by Dallas

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  29. This argument seems to be based on what seems to me is a glaring mistake: that homosexual women cannot bear children. As they are still women, they sure can still have children, and they do have children. Lots of single women, be they straight or gay, have children. Some of them pay a lot of money for it. Anyway, the assumption should not be so much that as long as there are heterosexual families the species can continue, but as long as there are women the species can conitnue. And certain scientific developments are making that less and less a necessity.
    What I find troublesome in this logic is the idea that if a behavior, any behavior, has the capacity for becoming problematic at some future time, then society should do its best to discourage it. This sounds like a kind of normalization (even possibly including state intrusion) which I think is just unaccpetable in liberal societies. How can we know what behaviors will turn out to be a problem later on? Especially since we as a society can't seem to agree on what is problematic now (and for good reasons). Huffing paint is bad for you, but we still have paint. Having sex itself can be very bad for you, as it leads to contrating disease, etc.; if it were all for the sake of the species, we'd just give up on sex and all have state-sponsored artificial inseminations. It'd be a lot cleaner, a lot safer, and a whole lot more scary. If the goal is to have stable families to raise children, then there are many ways to do that. The whole "against nature" problematic doesn't seem to bear out the facts, IMHO. There's a lot that humans do thats not in keeping with nature (whatever that is).
     

    Posted by Educated Ice

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  30. This is all assuming the Kantian framework:

    Your arguments, Richard, about homosexuals being able to procreate with a partner that is not their preferred, seems to deal with the universalist claim that "If everyone were homosexual, there wouldn't be any new babies". In this case, it's obvious that homosexual's fertility debunks this claim.

    However, it doesn't really address the universalist claim that, "if everyone were in a homosexual marriage, there wouldn't be any new babies." Depending on one's belief about fidelity in a marriage, (though according to the categorical imperative, infidelity can't be logically universalized because it presupposes marriage, but then universal infidelity cancels it out, much like the theft and property case) it may be morally impossible for the gay couple to actually conceive. (Though recent scientific discoveries may undermine this claim).

    A better way to refute both, is that because the whole fact that homosexuality is not a choice, and thus the "choice" to have a homosexual marriage is not universalizable (can you really choose to marry homosexual or heterosexual unless you are bisexual in which case the above argument may hold?), it would be ridiculous to say much about anything concerning homosexuality or homosexual marriage under the Categorical Imperative. Homosexuality is not really a moral choice. It's just as absurd as applying the Categorical Imperative to hair color or eye color.

    Incidentally, your arguments that "in reality we have nothing to fear from homosexuals because there aren't enough of them to cause mass human extinction" actually fall out from the only real conceivable choice in these matters that could be scrutinized by Kant's imperative: "If someone were gay it would be permissible for them to marry/have sex or whatever it is homosexuals do =P" In this case, everyone would not be homosexual, everyone would not be homosexually married, merely every homosexual would be married and that's fine because there is no logical contradiction.

    Nonetheless, (still keeping within a Kantian framework) one would still be using the woman or man with who they actually conceive as a means to an end, and thus violating the second maxim.

    As for the Kantian framework itself, it seems as though you are not analyzing the statement, "it should be impermissible for me to be a teacher because if everyone was a teacher blah blah blah", correctly. That is more of a hypothetical imperative, which should only be regarded as a subjective preference (and thus allows for your hallowed plurality) and not as an objective end; it is a means to the end that you so interestingly hinted at when you suggest that everyone should be allowed to do as they see fit, as only this kind of mentality can be logically consistent and only this imperative is really the end we ought to choose (and thus it doesn't matter what profession you choose as long as you saw it fit to be chosen).

    However, it should be noted that even this, "allow everyone to do as they see fit" must be tempered by a regard for others (we wouldn't want murder now would we), which sounds a lot like Kant's imperative in the first place, one has a perfect duty to the end-nature of others and an imperfect duty to seek perfection for himself and everyone else, in essence allowing people to do as they see fit.

    Sooo, while I have addressed all of your concerns with the use of the categorical imperative, I must also add that another way to challenge Dallas is by pointing out that he automatically assumes that the long-term interests of society are more important than long-term individual interests (and the absurd thought that society is some sort of holistic entity that shares the rational nature of its components). An assumption that really has nothing to do with Kant at all and thus it becomes hard to do the whole universalizing bit.

    ReplyDelete

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