Wednesday, December 04, 2002

More on Utilitarianism and Sex

The prolific Kevin Miller has responded to my earlier post, suggesting that I have been influenced by Germain Grisez on sexual morality and suggesting that Karol Wojtyla is better:

But while I think his arguments are generally on the mark, I don't think they're enough. I think that an explanation of why contraception or homosexual acts are wrong must show not only why they don't pursue some intelligible good, but also why they in fact violate or attack some good. And I do think this can be shown.

Karl seems to draw especially from the natural-law theory of Germain Grisez. Karol Wojtyla's natural-law argument against contraception in Love and Responsibility is richer (if less fully/explicitly theoretically elaborated) than Grisez's, and adds the essential point that it is contrary to the nature of another human being to treat him or her as an object rather than as a (knowing and willing) subject, as a mere means to some end - like pleasure - rather than as a partner in the pursuit of some real and common good. That is to say, it is contrary to the nature of another human being to treat him or her with use rather than with love.

Kevin is correct, sort of. I am influenced quite a bit by John Finnis, who works with Grisez a lot. I also am currently in the process of reading Love and Responsibility, and I find much there that is good. But so far I prefer the approach of identifying goods of practical reason and not acting contrary to these goods, rather than the Kantian approach taken by the Pope, which says that we must not treat others merely as a means to some end, but must treat them as ends in themselves. The reason is that so far I find this formulation a bit vague, and like Kantian moral philosophy in general, it is difficult to figure out what counts as exploitation and what doesn't: are my students using me merely as a means to their diplomas, or are they respecting me as an end in myself? How will I or they know?.

Perhaps Karol Wojtyla has worked this out in more detail--after all, I am only half-way through Love and Responsibility. Maybe Professor Miller could do us the favor of giving a sketch of what he comes up with: how does one know which actions are mere use, and which are actions of love?

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