Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Prager on Gay Marriage

Here is Dennis Prager's take on gay marriage.

Prager thinks that the two sides in the gay marriage debate ask different questions and don't address the other side's question. He summarizes the questions in this manner:
Proponents of same-sex marriage ask: Is keeping the definition of marriage as man-woman fair to gays? Opponents of same-sex marriage ask: Is same-sex marriage good for society?
Prager is ultimately against gay marriage because he does not think it is good for society, but he acknowledges that the traditional definition of marriage is "unfair" to gays. He just thinks the detriment to society outweighs the unfairness to gays.

But Prager never gives an argument as to why the traditional definition of marriage is unfair to gays. He insists that we must be "honest" that it is, but as is generally the case when "honest" is used this way, it is a form of moral blackmail masquerading as an appeal to our better nature; you can either join Prager in the ranks of the honest by immediately agreeing with him or reveal your dishonesty simply by disagreeing. It's a not so noble way to avoid an argument.

Why should we agree that marriage as it is traditionally known is "unfair" to gays? To be "unfair" marriage must deprive someone of something that is their just due. Marriage has always been understood to be a union between men and women (even when it has been between a man and more than one woman or vice versa); it has never been understood to be a union between men and men or women and women. This is independent of anyone's inclinations; I can't marry a man any more than a gay man can and a gay man can marry a woman just as much as I can. Simply because a gay man wants to marry a man and doesn't want to marry a woman, it doesn't follow that there is any injustice in the traditional arrangements. Our desires should follow justice and not vice versa.

This brings me to Prager's points concerning the differences between the sexes:
There is a fierce battle taking place to render meaningless the man-woman distinction, the most important distinction regarding human beings’ personal identity.
Sexual differences surely are fundamental, but doesn't this undermine Prager's point that denying marriage to gays is "unfair?" If the sexes are not interchangeable, then you can't simply substitute a man for a woman in the marriage union and still call it "marriage", or apply the principles of justice appropriate to marriage.  Marriage simply isn't a union between two persons; it is a union between a man and a woman. We may want to discuss whether a union between a man and a man or a woman and a woman should have some sort of legal standing, but if Prager is right about the fundamental nature of sexual differences, it's not simply "unfair" that gay relationships are not included in our definition of marriage.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Holmes and Scientism

"One's ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature"
      - Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

Holmes doesn't use it this way (in fact he uses it with reference to Darwin), but this statement is an excellent summation of the problem with scientism. What happens in scientism is that principles that have been shown to be highly effective in interpreting certain aspects of nature are, for that reason, taken to define the extent of nature. What cannot be interpreted in their terms is dismissed as non-existent, a myth, or "emergent." But this is to contradict Holmes's principle, for it must be Nature that judges how broad out ideas must be, not our ideas how broad Nature must be.