Tag Archive: ethics


Polyamory and Happiness

The Love that calls for marriage.

I read a piece recently that argued polyamory as being superior to traditional marriage because it tended to result in better character in those participating in it. Traditional marriage breads jealousy and thus hostility and violence. This happens when a spouse has relations outside of marriage. But if this happens in polyamory, this doesn’t happen since the point of polyamory is complete openness to experience sexually with others. In fact, instead of jealousy, the partner feels happiness in the other’s success sexually. Rather than tending to violence, sex with other people tends to happiness in the case of the partner.

The problem with this view is that it overlooks the case where the partner does not have relations with anyone else. In the case of the polyamorous partner, she must be required to be sad for her dedicated partner for not succeeding with others but not only that she must at all times realize that she has no special claim to any of her partners’ affections nor they to hers. Polyamory instills an imperative to be open to providing “benefits” with many partners. She’s not even to be dedicated to certain sets of partners. Polyamory tends to a kind of ubiquity of relations to the point where e en friendship is irrelevant. But a traditional marriage understands that partners are partners because they have been chosen. Not only that but chosen with lifelong dedication. Marriage traditionally conceived is an exclusive covenant and promise. When one says “I do”, one sets a precedent against predictable future discounting and this assures the partner that right now when and while one is right minded and whole hearted one dedicates to their partner for all of life. This is a kind of precious love. Conjugal family creation specifically calls for covenantal love and thus traditional marriage.

Polyamorous arrangements assume no effort will be made to prevent discounting the future and that everyone involved will simply follow the mood at the time. The aim is to avoid sabotaging the heat of the moment and to mitigate the need to sublimate the libido. In polyamorous agreements, persons volunteer to be mere means. This is not as readily seen as it is in the case of slavery or Old Mormon style polygamy where the man is a kind of king and his wives are like his retainers. In polyamory however you have a kind of original position where several people contract to exchange sexual benefits with each other in the future. This is to grant each other property in the other’s bodies but only, though not necessarily exclusively, for pleasure.

So polyamory is only finding a happiness in another’s increased utility, like when a friend wins at Lotto. It’s not violent but also not much since the ends obtained come and go. But the anger that goes with infidelity is righteous indignation and need not be brute violence. On the other hand, there is no sense of dedicated love in polyamory and polyamory would resist and discourage such love by requiring infidelity to justify the lifestyle. Further, polyamory includes no provision for children. It would have to make special provisions if children are had or desired that would either compromise polyamory or compromise children. This could include sterilization or abortion, so polyamory is not necessarily without it’s violence.

The oceanic pleasure of the experience machine of polyamory that constitutes it’s “spirituality” is certainly spiritual in the original paganism of the human race. But in the spirituality of western theism the model of religion is marriage. God’s people are a “chosen people”, his prized possession, the apple of his eye. And he is a “jealous God”. In paganism the people find useful deities, but God says, “You did not choose me. I chose you.” God makes a covenant with his people and they are thus identified with each other. God’s love is unconditional but still exclusive. This is the difference between Eros and Agape.

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The Psuedo-Conscience of Modernity

Today I had breakfast at my favorite vegan cafe – I’m not vegan but the food is good – where I was confronted with anti-cruelty arguments in pamphlets for veganism. The moral certainty that attaches to such arguments is so alien to the secularity underneath them. The fact that hedonism is the real principle is obscured by the Puritanism of the histrionics stating the view. That such hedonism is morally dubious does not seem to enter the mind.

Further, a friend just reported that the American Philosophical Society has politicized their policies against schools that require traditional morals about marriage, life, and family, in the name of defending previously unheard of civil rights. Again, a new kind of Puritanism that is centered on the premise if hedonism seems behind it.

In our present day, it seems that we see a new Victorianism, where the authority of a public conscience has become sacrosanct. But this authority of conscience is absurd given the account that modernity gives us about conscience.

Both traditional and modern accounts agree that the formation of conscience is like the formation of a habit. It grows and develops according to reinforcement which comes through custom and training. However, the modern view argues that this is all there is to it and that the impression that we have that we are obliged to follow duties immediately recognized by intuitions is an illusion created by the reinforcement of what were originally merely hypothetical imperatives but which had become second nature to social custom before we were born into it. Consequently, we no longer are aware of their rationale but are still aware of their imperative force. So we construe it as a basic duty.

Be that as it may. It may well be true that intuited obligations were originally hypothetical imperatives. Still, the epistemological foundation of such an analysis – some version or another of the Verification Principle – is famously self defeating. If we grant that we know anything at all, then there may be most anything that could be a basic belief – including basic moral beliefs. These may even be hypothetical imperatives but ones the that realize an objective good or end to human nature whether individually or socially. These original intuitions would not just be customary. They would be constitutive of the proper functioning of human nature.

A way of trying to grasp what this original moral information wired into nature might be, one might seek to describe the way humans actually make moral judgments in the world. It’s here that the thesis of descriptive moral relativism is given – that different cultured hold different duties as valid than other cultures do. However, this picture is richer than is often presented. Fundamental moral codes and moral decision procedures have more in common across different cultures than first appears. The picture is consistent with a moderate moral objectivism that affirms that different codes aim to recognize objective moral truths from the perspective of their own concrete situations – and sometimes they make mistakes.

However, modernity, once it accepts that conscience is purely epiphenomenal to nature, goes about to rescript in totum according to one ideal theory or another, similar to the attempt to rewrite language into a more pure ideal or scientific form. Such extremity can only be a risky experiment. The result is, by it’s own lights, a radically altered conscience that has also lost sight of the experimental riskiness of it’s project and the cost of what might have been the natural basis of the moral life.

Besides this Cartesian-like radical replacement of our previous formal frameworks, there is the implication that conventional morality is neither necessary nor obligatory but neither is any alternative morality. The wedding of Nietzsche with Mill underneath the mask of the mechanism of conscience shows that modern morality is just a bid for power by the alert morality brokers over those who simply conform to conscience. But for all they know, the sheep may just be the beneficiaries of a kind of induced moral psychosis that both stands as moral truth for them and between them and moral truth.

But to those who bank on the possibility of moral truth will be sensitive to the history and demographics of traditions of moral thought and only change as necessary – rejecting Cartesian remove and replacement for the example of Nurath’s boat, fixing leaks by moving boards around whole staying at sea. Such an exploration of tradition will be for them a standpoint that will enable them to see through the power games of modern Victorianism. Rather than moral tradition representing a moral monstrosity, it may be the only cure for a generation where everyone is a moral monster.

One of the great mysteries in the public debate over homosexuality is the widespread acceptance of genetic determinism argument for homosexuality — a homosexual simple cannot help themselves so they cannot be obliged not to be gay. the religious spin on this is that since it’s genetic, it must be considered God’s gift and will for that person — and you can’t go against God. The mystery of this is that there is no evidence at all that genetics plays a significant role but plenty of evidence that a convergent set of certain types of environmental factors over the course of a person’s development from pre-natal to childhood to adulthood can induce an intransigent homosexual orientation – a case such that as a child the person is helpless to do anything about and for which he cannot be held responsible for its origin but which is something he can start to deal with as an adult and the prevention of which is something the community can control and prevent for the children.

But a better explanation is that the genetic argument is just an archetype of legitimacy that characterizes the worldview of the age and reduces it to a cliche that does our thinking for us. The real point is the socially settled view that humans have evolved from nothing but natural causes, thus their behavior is determined in all cases. Also, human behavior is necessarily egoistic and hedonistic, focused only on the basic instincts for survival and pleasure in common with other animals. Consequently, no one can behave in any other way that to seek these and that no matter how things appear otherwise. One might object that if this were true how could we have ever come by our intuitions about morality or our great moral institutions. The answer given is that these formed over the course of time as a kind of cultural evolution. Practices which had value at the time for encouraging survival against hostile forces and which were reinforced by repetition to become habits. As habits they continued to be observed even when the original motives for introducing them ceased to exist. When asked about them now, we no longer see how it came to be that we observed such customs, although we still feel the note of approval and disapproval about following or failing to follow them. We thus take them to basic intuitions of moral truth, even though they are just detritus from previous circumstances. Thus the Voice of God in the Soul turns out just to be a shadow of our evolutionary history.

But once this has been dispelled by scientific discovery that needs neither God nor morals to play a role in explanation, we now see that there could not be any possible moral grounds to base a rejection of homosexuality. Further since as a survival driven organism humans must necessarily seek themselves, they could not be obliged to do otherwise. This means that is we are to speak of moral categories at all we must speak of a right to pursue ones own satisfaction as one sees fit. Finally, one one says for whatever reason that someone cannot enjoy their homosexual lifestyle, that denies them a pleasure they desperately desire and also adds the pain of being shamefully regarded. Since hedonism is also hardwired in the species, the cannot be obliged to accept this misery.

As this account came to be developed, starting with the advent of early modern thought’s adoption of nominalism and its denial of formal and final causes, it was thought that (or at least presented as if) these ideals would be no threat to conventional morality. But history has shown us that once natural teleology has been rejected, panmaterialism erodes the conventional codes progressively. The shift in perspective from Aristotelianism to Corpuscularianism in the 17th Century has undercut the foundations of traditional morality, but not all at once. But the history of modern western thought has been the progress of the acceptance of one previously unthinkable conclusion after another so that now what has become unthinkable is morality or justice in the traditional sense.

So the genetic argument is only an ectype for the real argument and the grip it has especially on the rising generation is that we have crossed another threshold of unthinkability. The problem with it is that this explanation does not adequately explain the experience we all have of moral reflection. In deciding what the right thing to do in a situation, and especially in situations when we are faced with conflicting moral demands, we have the capacity to reason from moral intuitions to novel applications which being situation based are necessarily new but also seen to be sound. We are also able to discern exception cases that enable us to distinguish actual duties from merely prima facie dutiesAlso beside the ability to deliberate with these principles , we also see an appropriate emotional response of approval, disaproval, shame, or guilt – including the difference between moral guilt and just regret for getting discovered – and that the fitness between the two is logical. If our intuitions were simple de facto affirmations that have passed there sell-by date, we shouldn’t expect this to be the case. But if they are genuine intuitions of moral reasoning along with their appropriate feelings, then it is odd that such should emerge from the flux of cultural evolution alone. I can give real and valid assent to the idea that I am guilty of wrongdoing, which suggests less an old piece of doctrine and more a Voice speaking to me about my conduct.