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February 28, 2009


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The attempt to defend policies like these on the grounds of the orientation/act distinction is flawed for the obvious reason that 'orientation' is often used to indicate a disposition and one discriminates indirectly with regard to a particular disposition by discriminating directly with regard to that disposition's act; in this context it's a nonstarter from the beginning. But I don't see at all why you think the argument in the post is cogent. Facts [1]-[3] merely indicate what is already conceded by the opponent, namely that homosexual sex is prohibited. So the whole of the defense of premise (2) rests entirely on [4] (your 'Finally'). But [4] is implausible in two ways:

(1) People can have all sorts of motivations for wrong actions, including perfectly good motivations. But what constitutes the 'typical' motivation for an act will vary considerably across contexts; there is no particular reason to regard typical motivations for wrong actions in every context as necessarily wrong, and it doesn't seem that typicality could be defined outside of particular contexts. So if we consider the foundation for the conditional in [4], there are a lot of complications that make it not so clear that it is a fact at all -- we'd have to ask, which contexts typicality is being defined for.

(2) Orientation is not a motivation (although perhaps it can be a component in a motivation), any more than being temperamentally angry is a motivation for killing people, or being temperamentally gentle is a motivation for avoiding conflict with one's next door neighbor. It is, in fact, what we usually take it to be: a disposition that is actualized in a mode of attraction. To get from here to motivation a number of things have to be added -- higher-order evaluations of this disposition, for instance (my being temperamentally gentle may be a sort of component in my motivation for making special effort to argue with my neighbor, if I regard the disposition as in some way giving a less than satisfactory outcome; e.g., if I think that I am too inclined to go easy on people who have done wrong, and think that going easy on my neighbor, who has done a particular very serious wrong, is unacceptable), as well as sets of beliefs about the world. Thus, to use gay men in particular as an example, gay men are not automatically motivated to have sex with every man, or indeed any man, they meet, simply in virtue of their sexual orientation; that would be an absurd result, but I don't see how you expect the swift move from motivation to orientation in [4] to avoid such a reductio-type implication.

Brandon, would it satisfy your concerns in (1) if John had changed "the typical motivation of said action" in his argument with "a noninstrumental motivation to do said action?" I think this would put his argument in line with the first paragraph of your comment.

I think it'd also satisfy your concerns in (2). Having a homosexual orientation, I think, implies noninstrumentally desiring sex with some people of the same gender (either actual people, or perhaps if one happens to inhabit a lonely world, nearby possible people). If there's a Biblical prohibition against any sex with people of the same gender, this will make a homosexual orientation sinful according to the Bible.

In general, noninstrumental motivations seem more useful to me for the purpose of morally evaluating agents themselves than anything about the typical motivations for an action or the typical actions generated by a motivation. I try not to discriminate against people based on their inhabiting a region of modal space where motivations and their downstream effects are hooked up in a screwy way. To some extent, the actual world is screwy.

Insofar as I have any criticism of John's argument after that amendment, it's that I'd allow a large amount of leeway in interpreting a book as complex and many-stranded as the Bible. But I don't know if that's a particularly effective criticism in this case, as a subscription to "evangelical theology" might land one in an interpretive program that eliminates this leeway. (Here's 1 Timothy, if anyone's interested -- I think there are probably some moves for a more liberal interpreter to make.)

Just to clarify, "some people of the same gender" in the above post is supposed to be read de dicto rather than de re -- there's no particular individuals that homosexuals must be attracted to. (Given that male homosexuals and female homosexuals are attracted to different people, a de re reading wouldn't work out very well anyway.)

The attempt to defend policies like these on the grounds of the orientation/act distinction is flawed for the obvious reason that 'orientation' is often used to indicate a disposition and one discriminates indirectly with regard to a particular disposition by discriminating directly with regard to that disposition's act; in this context it's a nonstarter from the beginning

I'm still having trouble followng this, though I must have heard it (or its ilk) a million times now. Let 'orientation toward A' be read as disposition to A. Suppose Smith has a disposition to do A in C that is manifested. Now there seem to be two cases. Suppose Smith believes correctly he should not manifest A in C, though he does. We can suppose it is something on the order of petty theft. Not seriously wrong. How does a university that does not hire Smith becauses he manifests A in C discriminate against Smith, directly or indirectly? I can't see any way in which they do. Case 2. Smith believes correctly that it is permissible to manifest A in C. We can suppose it is on the order of unusual behavior, like always existing a room with your left foot first. Nothing wrong. How does a university not discriminate against Smith in failing to hire him for manifesting A? I can't see any way in which they don't. So the question comes down to the permissiblity of manifesting the disposition. Some think that doing so is in some serious way disordered. Others think not.


I like what Neil said in response to your comment.

This is a great topic. I also have a worry about what Brandon calls [4] in the original argument. I am not entirely clear on how the concept of sin differs from that of immorality. However, if I were the sort of person who operated with the concept of sin at all, then I presume that I would apply the "'ought' implies 'can'" principle to it. For it to be the case that something is sinful, it must be the case that the agent had it in her power to avoid it. If the concept of sin is limited in this way, then only those who believe that homosexual orientation is chosen or that it is possible to choose to stop being homosexual could be willing to call homosexual orientation sinful. And while there are people who do believe these things, my impression is that they are a minority of those who believe that homosexual conduct is sinful.


Conceding the stuff on motivation, is the inference here,

. . . If the Bible portrays a certain action as a sin worthy of death or comparable to killing your parents and slave trafficking, then it thereby portrays the typical motivation of said action as sinful too.

supposed to follow from the following observation?

Second, the "community covenant" directs you to live a "Christian life," which "involves practicing those attitudes and actions the Bible portrays as virtues and avoiding those the Bible portrays as sinful."

That is, is your inference above (I take it that the conditional encodes an inference) based on the observation that the community covenant requires certain attitudes. Attitudes of approbation toward sinful actions are therefore wrong. It is still loose, of course, since you talk about motivations rather than attitudes, but I'm trying to get some idea about what justifies the inference.

A further thought. The Bible portrays various kinds of heterosexual sexual contact as seriously sinful as well... at least I seem to remember some bits like that. If the original argument works, then wouldn't it also follow that the Bible portrays heterosexual orientation as sinful? Neil's amendment may help with this problem, but I am not sure. You might say that heterosexual orientation is not necessarily sinful because it consists in a non-instrumental desire to have sex with someone of the opposite sex, and this is not sinful as long as you only desire to have sex with the specific member of the opposite sex who is your spouse. But would even a place like Wheaton condemn desire for a prospective spouse? Wouldn't they acknowledge that God implanted the desire as an incentive to get married? But this would mean that Bobby's non-instrumental desire to have sex with Suzie who is not yet his wife was not sinful even if giving into that desire now would be.

Hi Dale,

Interesting suggestion. But I don't think OIC clearly applies to the Christian concept of sin. As evidence of this, I'd point to the doctrine of original sin.

I'm not sure what proportion of evangelical, conservative Christians accept that homosexuality is a choice. For those who do accept it, adverting to OIC won't help them.


No, that conditional is not supposed to be supported by adverting to the community covenant. I just thought the conditional seemed obvious.

Characterizing A-ing as a "capital sin" (without exception) implies that a non-instrumental motivation to A is also sinful. (I don't think there's an important difference between implying Q and portraying Q.)

How would I support this to someone who didn't find it obvious?

Maybe I'd ask how you'd interpret someone who said, "Make no mistake about it: murder is a detestable crime and murderers ought to be put to death." You'd naturally take this person to detest murderous intentions. If this person were to then sincerely add, "But I have nothing against a (noninstrumental) desire to murder," you'd be very surprised.


"If the original argument works, then wouldn't it also follow that the Bible portrays heterosexual orientation as sinful?"

As you anticipated, I think not, at least not necessarily. As for whether some desires for heterosexual desires are sinful -- there's that bit about not coveting your neighbor's wife!

As for the slightly different case of Bobby coveting the unmarried Suzie, I don't think Wheaton's typical proponent would want to allow that God implants sexual desire (for a specific person) as an incentive to marriage (to that specific person). For that would imply that God has given many people an incentive to same-sex marriage.

Maybe I'd ask how you'd interpret someone who said, "Make no mistake about it: murder is a detestable crime and murderers ought to be put to death." You'd naturally take this person to detest murderous intentions. If this person were to then sincerely add, "But I have nothing against a (noninstrumental) desire to murder," you'd be very surprised.

That's very interesting. Let me avoid talking about intentions which raise complicating issues. I'll talk about murderous desires. The only reason I'd think murderous desires are bad, or make a person worse, is because they lead to murderous actions. But suppose I knew that Smith had murderous desires because some people are born with the m-gene and he's one of them. Or maybe he has murderous desires because of a history of psychological abuse he has endured. Now suppose he regards these desires as deeply unfortunate and he never acts on them. I would not for a moment think that merely having those desires is bad or wrong. I would not think for a moment that having those desires makes him morally worse. Would you?

Yes, I actually do think having those desires makes him worse.


I think your criticism of John's argument - that one should "allow a large amount of leeway in interpreting a book as complex and many-stranded as the Bible" - is better than you think it is. Wheaton doesn't say it seeks employees who subscribe to "evangelical theology" (qua wooden Biblical literalism). Rather, it seeks employees who subscribe to "evangelical theology as expressed in the College’s STATEMENT OF FAITH." The only thing Wheaton's statement of faith says about Biblical interpretation is that "the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing, so that they are fully trustworthy and of supreme and final authority in all they say." But this is fully compatible with the further claim that God inspired a highly metaphorical, many stranded context-sensitive document.

Given this, John's evidence for (2) seems inconclusive. Couple the fact that there's no rock-solid case for the Bible (as interpreted according to Wheaton's evangelical theology) proscribing homosexual orientation with Wheaton's saying it discriminates against those who engage in homosexual activity, but not those who have a homosexual orientation, and it seems we should take Wheaton at its word.

Of course, if John is right that (P) "Characterizing A-ing as a "capital sin" (without exception) implies that a non-instrumental motivation to A is also sinful" then Wheaton cannot proscribe homosexual activity without proscribing homosexual orientation. So if Wheaton proscribes homosexual activity then it must discriminate against those with homosexual orientation.

This goes too fast. (P) seems wrong for reasons Mike has given. Moreover, even if (P) is correct that doesn't entail that Wheaton discriminates against those with homosexual orientation. First it is questionable whether regarding someone with a particular orientation as immoral or sinful amounts to discriminating against him. Second (and more importantly), what follows from (P) and the fact that Wheaton proscribes homosexual activity is that Wheaton either discriminates against those with a homosexual orientation or has an incoherent policy (and so tries and fails to proscribe homosexual activity, because the attempted proscription isn't accompanied by discrimination against those with a homosexual orientation). The latter seems more likely. It is, for example, in keeping with the fact that the Bible (and other religious texts) are full of conceptual falsehoods (e.g. the doctrine of original sin; the suggestion that one can inherit vice from one's ancestors strikes me as conceptually confused), and so one would expect an institution that embraces the Bible as truth to affirm some nonsense in the process.

But this goes to show that one can accept (P) and still agree that Wheaton doesn't proscribe homosexual orientation. Because the APA doesn't "reject as unethical all forms of" conceptual confusion, Wheaton remains in compliance with its anti-discrimination policy.


I agree that there might be some leeway for metaphorical interpretation. But what's the metaphorical reading of: "if a man has sexual relations with another man as a man does with a woman, these two man have done a hateful sin. They must be put to death"?

About this claim: "even if (P) is correct that doesn't entail that Wheaton discriminates against those with homosexual orientation." That's what the rest of the argument is for.

And being incoherent on top of discriminating doesn't nullify the discrimination!

I wonder how they interpret the notions of "practicing" and "avoiding" attitudes. Does that mean "having" and "not having"? Or does it mean not acting as if one has them, and doing what is in one's power to overcome them if one does? If the official policy is not to hire anyone who has attitudes the Bible condemns, it seems like that would pretty sharply limit the applicant pool. After all, we are all sinners, right?

Good question, Dale. I'm understanding 'avoiding attitudes' in what I take to be its most natural sense, namely, to not have them.

And in order for it to amount to discrimination, I don't think it need be official policy to "not hire anyone" with the condemned attitude. It need only be that people with the attitude are disadvantaged.


A. "[W]hat's the metaphorical reading of: "if a man has sexual relations with another man as a man does with a woman, these two man have done a hateful sin. They must be put to death"?"

I grant that's a tricky one. But notice now we're saying that any Christian who regards Scripture as the authoritative word of God (read: any Christian) is committed to a policy of discriminating against homosexuals, and so any institution that wants its faculty to be practicing Christians must violate the APA's guidelines. Maybe this is a conclusion you're willing to embrace, but I think it ignores some practical realities about a whole lot of Christian institutions (viz. that they only pay lip-service to the more distasteful parts of the Bible). The fact that a Christian institution professes commitment to the scriptures being the word of God should not be enough to show that it practices discrimination.

B. Given that we cannot determine the particular school of Biblical interpretation that is kosher at Wheaton (so all we can say about Wheaton qua Biblical interpreter is that it is a Christian institution committed to the scriptures), I think your argument turns entirely on the truth, and implications for Wheaton, of (P) "Characterizing A-ing as a "capital sin" (without exception) implies that a non-instrumental motivation to A is also sinful."

But the implications of (P) for Wheaton are far from clear. On the one hand, you have it that Wheaton seems to proscribe homosexual activity as cardinally sinful (it won't hire those who engage in it; fires them; says they are sinners, etc.). On the other hand, it appears that Wheaton does not proscribe homosexual orientation (it will hire those with that orientation; it doesn't fire them; it does not condemn them as sinners (any more than we are all sinners), etc.).

If (P) is true then we have to reject one of these appearances. But (P) does not tell us which of these appearances to reject (nor does the Bible, unless one wants to take a truly uncharitable view of all Christian institutions). We could either reject that Wheaton characterizes those who engage in homosexual activity as sinners, or reject that it does not characterize those with a homosexual orientation as sinners.

Rejecting the first appearance amounts to denying that Wheaton discriminates against those with a homosexual orientation even if (P) is true. It also amounts to saying that Wheaton is conceptually confused; it thinks it proscribes homosexual activity but, in point of fact, fails to do so. So, while I agree with you that "being incoherent on top of discriminating doesn't nullify the discrimination," I disagree that "being incoherent instead of discriminating doesn't nullify the discrimination." And, given that religions are famous for their incoherences (some are premised on them), I think it is an option that should be taken seriously.


I didn't think there'd be any way to explain away Leviticus 20:13.

"... you have it that Wheaton seems to proscribe homosexual activity as cardinally sinful." They explicitly endorse the Bible's "condemn[ation]" of "homosexual behavior," so there's no interpretative difficulty here.

It's incongruous to accuse others of being uncharitable when your defense of Wheaton consists in concluding that they are simply being "incoherent"!

What's more plausible/charitable: (A) that they're simply being incoherent, or (B) that they're more or less getting across the (perhaps slightly incoherent) message that they'd like to get across?

There's also a third option: (C) they're neither incoherent nor innocent of discrimination, but have unintentionally crafted a discriminatory policy.

If it's either A or C, then we would expect them to rectify the situation if they were made aware of it. If it's B, we'd expect otherwise.


"It's incongruous to accuse others of being uncharitable when your defense of Wheaton consists in concluding that they are simply being "incoherent"!"

It is vastly more uncharitable to accuse an institution of being bigoted than it is to accuse it of subscribing to incoherent doctrines it derives from The Bible (which we already know is full of incoherence!). Analytic philosophers put a premium on coherence - this is one of its "hobgoblins" - but beyond the discipline a little inconsistency is tolerated. This is especially so in religions, many of which are rife with inconsistencies and are embraced, not for their logical infallibility, but because the practices they inspire (etc.) allow for self-fulfillment and virtuous living (obviously this is a simplistic account of religion's appeal).

As far as the main question - does Wheaton discriminate against those with a homosexual orientation - I'm now puzzled where you stand. I gather from your rhetorical question "What's more plausible/charitable: (A) that they're simply being incoherent, or (B) that they're more or less getting across the (perhaps slightly incoherent) message that they'd like to get across?" that you think (B) is more plausible than (A). You also propose a third option "(C) they're neither incoherent nor innocent of discrimination, but have unintentionally crafted a discriminatory policy," but you seem to prefer (B) to (C) because if (C) were true "we would expect them to rectify the situation if they were made aware of it" (which they have not done). So, as I understand it, you think (B) is the most plausible option. And I would agree. But I also think that the way in which their message is incoherent is that it condemns homosexual activity while not condemning homosexual orientation, so its slight incoherence is Wheaton's saving grace. (That this is a slight incoherence is supported by the fact that reasonable people can clearly disagree, as they have in this thread, over whether the platitude connecting condemnation of an act with condemnation of the non-instrumental motivation for the act actually obtains.)

I am curious as to what falls under the description "homosexual activity". Do the following count?

1) Masturbating to homosexual pornorgaphy or thoughts of homosexual intercourse. Does it matter if the gender sameness in the homosexual porn or thoughts doesn't match the masturbater's gender?

2) What about same sex hand-holding, same-sex kissing, same sex mutual masturbation, same-sex phone sex, same-sex dancing?

3) Mixed-gender threesomes focused around heterosexual sexual activity?

4) Writing homosexual erotica?

5) Attending a gay rights march, watching Will & Grace or The L Word?

6) Having anal sex (either receiving or giving) with another adult, but at no time believing that the person was in fact the same gender--The Case of the Convincing Tranvestite. Does it matter if my epistemic state at the time was a matter of having been deceived or making a reasonable mistake or a matter of merely me being inattentive or epistemically neglectful? Does the type of response to learning the truth matter? Anger, disgust, arousal, indifference?

7) What about having sex (and desiring to have sex) with a different-gendered adult who both willingly and convincingly "dresses up" as the same gender? Does it matter if the two are married?


Please point out where I leveled the accusation of bigotry.

"As far as the main question ... I'm now puzzled where you stand." My position is that Wheaton's policy, as explained in their employment application, violates the letter of the APA's anti-discrimination policy.

As best as I can tell, your basic objection is that I've not ruled out that they're just incoherent rather than discriminating. I'm perfectly comfortable with that, though, because it's just implausible to suggest that incoherence can function as a "saving grace" in this way. It implies that an institution need only introduce some incoherence into its policies to avoid the charge of discrimination.


I don't know. Maybe you should write the folks at Wheaton and ask them to clarify their terms of employment.


I assume that all of the examples constitute at least one violation of the conduct code, I just was wondering if they all violated the "homosexual activity" clause.

What I was getting at was that two things.

a) when these places or their advocates, in order to provide evidence against the discrimination accusation, trot out shining examples of employed faculty who self-identify as homosexual, it makes sense to ask how exactly constrained and thereby miserable are their sexual lives.

b) show that a particularly broad reading of "homosexual activity" could quite easily begin to impose on the sexual lives of those employed by Wheaton who count themselves as quite heterosexual.

I see better now, Christy. Thanks for clarifying that.

This is all interesting and important stuff. Here are a couple quick thoughts.

First, I'm still not convinced that "If the Bible portrays a certain action as a sin...then it thereby portrays the typical motivation of said action as sinful too." It seems to me that a good account of moral responsibility will have to differentiate between those motivations that are (albeit indirectly) under the control of the agent and those that aren't. Presumably, homosexual orientation falls under that latter and it therefore doesn't seem to me to be the type of thing that God would consider someone morally responsible for. (I assure you that most Christians think that ought implies can. In fact,the doctrine of original sin might be seen as a theological motivation for the orientation/action distinction. Original sin is most often interpreted as a congenital desire or disposition to sin. Nevertheless, the desire is not irresistible and a person is not actually guilty until they choose to sin)

Now, it may be that a person with such an uncontrollable source of motivation will have some serious struggles and maybe even a difficult life ahead of them (that is, if they agree with the claim that to act on those motivations would be sinful). But, it seems to me that an inevitable fact that some people have harder lives than others and not all are tested equally. If the people in question are Christian (and they must be in order to apply for the job), they also believe that eventually all the wrongs they have suffered will somehow be made right.

Second, although I admit the leviticus passage should make any Christian uncomfortable, the way you characterize it as being equal to (or even comparable to) slave trafficking or patricide seems a bit disingenuous (or at least overly simplistic). For one thing, it is also the case that Deuteronomy says that even disobeying your parents is worthy of the death penalty. For another, it is far from crystal clear that the 1 Timothy passage is talking specifically about homosexuality (stay away from the King James). There are nuances of interpretation that even a conservative Christian has available here.

Christy, I too wonder how many of your seven examples would count as homosexual activity by Wheaton's standards. And your point about the broad reading of "homosexual activity" is well taken. I don't know if we'd be able to get a good answer though, because if, say, (5) counts as homosexual activity, there's a chance that

8) Imagining each of your seven examples vividly enough to render a well-considered judgment

may as well :)

Wheaton's full account of the Christian life is much broader than the ban on homosexuaity (however construed). As I read it, its other clauses straightforwardly condemn the activities in all of your examples. So from the school's perspective, the question of whether those activities count as homosexual conduct or not isn't important---even if not, they are still no-nos.


That is an interesting point. Perhaps we should add 9) to the list.

9) Inquiring about the extension of "homosexual activity".


Sure it matters. Suppose that being convicted of a misdemeanor constitutes a prima facie violation of the code of conduct. Surely it matters for Wheaton whether the misdemeanor is

a) disorderly conduct from an anti-abortion protest
b) disorderly conduct from a gay rights protest
c) solicitation of a different-sex prostitute
d) solicitation of a same-sex prostitute

b) and d) may, in virtue of their content, constitute multiple violations of the code of conduct and therefore be easier to establish a case for termination.

Plus, it isn't entirely clear that everything on the list would absent the charge of homosexual activity constitute a violation of the code of conduct. So obviously it matters how Wheaton fixes the meaning of "homosexual activity".


I've rescinded that original wording involving "typical motivation" in favor of Neil's suggested "non-instrumental motivation."

You thought my characterization of the Leviticus passage "as being equal to (or even comparable to) slave trafficking or patricide" seemed "a bit disingenuous (or at least overly simplistic)." Maybe I wasn't clear enough: the point about the comparisons pertained to 1 Timothy, not Leviticus.

And I'm not relying on the King James; I've got the New Century version at hand. It translates 1 Timothy: 9 - 10 like so. It speaks of people "who are against God and are sinful, who are not holy and have no religion, who kill their fathers and mothers, who murder, who take part in sexual sins, who have sexual relations with people of the same sex, who sell slaves ...".

So I don't see anything that ultimately supports the charge of disingenuousness (or oversimplification). But I'd be happy to learn of the nuanced conservative interpretation that puts it in a better light.

Neil (& John),

Thanks, I think that clarifies things a bit more. However, I don't think it deals with my concern (2). I still don't see how sexual orientation generates a noninstrumental motivation unless other things are added to it. This is not generally true of other deep-rooted personal dispositions; for instance, someone who is temperamentally angry doesn't have a noninstrumental desire to commit acts of rage -- at most he has something that could, if other things are added to it, sustain such a noninstrumental desire. Likewise, heterosexual orientation does not automatically guarantee noninstrumental motivation to have sex with members of the opposite sex; it merely is the sort of disposition that can sustain such a motivation if certain beliefs, desires, self-evaluations, tastes, etc. are added. And even if it did, the conditional in [4] would still be implausible. If you think it is wrong to break a rule it doesn't automatically follow that you think it is wrong to feel any sort of attraction to the idea of breaking the rule; it may, in fact, be purely the acting on the feeling of attraction. Thus, for instance, one may hold that motivations are fairly stable between dreaming and waking, but that it is only when actually acting on them while waking, and not when dreaming that you act on them, that you have done anything wrong. And, indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if many people did often hold something like this. Likewise, it is entirely possible to be a moral positivist about certain areas, in which you honestly don't care what the motivations are as long as this or that gets done (or doesn't get done). And indeed Biblical rules have often been regarded as moral positivist in this way, particularly in certain Protestant traditions. Thus it simply doesn't seem to be the case that condemnation of an act automatically involves condemnation of the noninstrumental motivation behind the act, or, indeed, of any motivation whatsoever. Sometimes it might, but that would have to be shown on a case-by-case basis.


I actually more or less agree, although I think I would put things slightly differently. But we are not, in fact, talking about issues of moral policy, but the application of a standing discrimination policy. And discrimination policies generally are understood to allow indirect as well as direct discrimination, so the distinction between disposition and act does nothing whatsoever to defend a particular practice as consistent with the policy.


Thanks for your response. I confess to not being sure how changing 'typical motivation' to 'non-instrumental motivation' helps much. Maybe I'm not sure what is meant by 'non-instrumental motivation', but I don't see why I couldn't make the same move and say that all motivations whatever have different sources, and only those that we have some amount of control over are such that we can be held morally responsible for them, whereas we can be held responsible for all actions such that we could have done otherwise.

Also, I wasn't very clear in my point about the texts. I admit that it seems hard to have a high view of scripture and not conclude that homosexual activity is sinful. My point about the OT passage is just that you can't necessary conclude how bad a sin is by the penalty listed. About the 1 Timothy passage, to be more clear, the Greek work used there translated by some as 'homosexual' does not literally mean that. It literally means something like 'pervert' and it can sometimes refer to types of heterosexual activity. Any translation as 'homosexual' is interpretive. Now, there may be a good reason to interpret it that way, but it is something about which reasonable (conservative) Christians could disagree I would think.

Yes, I actually do think having those desires makes him worse.

This goes back some, but I find this strange. Merely having a desire to do something wrong makes you worse? Everybody on the planet is pretty horrible!

Mike, assuming they also have noninstrumental desires to help others or do various good things, the people on this planet might still be pretty good on balance.

A few points to support the position that noninstrumental desires are what matters for the moral evaluation of agents:

-Wouldn't the person with a murderous desire be a morally better person without the murderous desire, whatever its causal etiology? If he tried to eliminate that desire somehow, that'd be an attempt at moral self-improvement, right?

-Suppose our world is observed by spirits who are themselves causally inert, and thus unable to affect it. Half of them take pleasure in observing our happiness and are saddened by our suffering. They wish they could advance our happiness, but know they are powerless to do so. The other half take pleasure in our suffering, and are saddened by our happiness. They wish they could make us suffer horribly, but know they are powerless to do so. Do the first class of spirits seem morally superior to the second? (They do to me.)

Below is a (I hope, relevant) passage on homosexuality from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Of course, since Wheaton is not a Catholic institution, this does not necessarily speak to the school's attitudes, but it is relevant to delineating the possible attitudes of Christians. (Note: This is from an older edition of the Catechism, so some of the wording may have been altered in recent years):

"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided . . . Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom . . . they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."

It is unclear from this whether "Christian perfection" refers to the control of homosexual tendencies or the removal of such tendencies. My understanding, however, is that the Church's official position is the former: Homosexual tendencies are not a good thing, but because they are beyond one's control they do not in themselves make one morally worse. (This interpretation was confirmed by my father, who is Catholic and rather well-versed in current doctrine.) Thus, someone can achieve "Christian perfection" despite experiencing non-instrumental motivations (or whatever, pace Brandon) towards homosexual activity.

Some seem to be maintaining that this is an incoherent position. I don't see why, but if it is, and if, as John seems to maintain, such incoherence cannot be exculpatory, then perhaps Wheaton is still at fault. In any case, I thought it might be helpful to offer something from the horse's mouth (or his cousin's, anyway).


Say there is a morally bad attitude that only a select portion of the population is capable of having. All who are capable of this attitude in fact have it, and it is beyond their control, not only in that they cannot control it in the moment but that they cannot "train" themselves not to have that attitude at any point in the future. This means that the kind of self-improvement you suggest w/r/t murderous desires is impossible w/r/t this attitude. And thus, by ought implies can, this kind of self-improvement—if we can still call it that at all—cannot be moral self-improvement.

So, there is an "internal" sense in which someone with this attitude (and no other faults) is morally perfect. But there is also an "external" sense in which this person is morally imperfect. The Christian view, I take it, is that when we say that someone has reached "Christian perfection" we mean that they as morally good as they might be, not that they are as morally good as anyone might be. That is, that they are perfect in an internal sense. I think what feels so odd about the Christian view is that these come apart. Most of us (i.e., secular philosophers) assume that the moral facts are "fair" such that internal and external perfection are the same. Morality makes no general demands that some cannot meet.

As to the spirits: The second group does seem worse to me, but only because the way you've put it, I feel safe in assuming that were these spirits granted causal efficacy, they would act (or intend to act) in accordance with the non-instrumental motivations discussed. Everything you said leads me to think that the spirits endorse—or at least fail to condemn—these desires. But some persons of homosexual orientation are not like this; they condemn the relevant non-instrumental motivations, though they have them nonetheless. And it is this difference, I take it, that allows for the possibility of Christians' distinguishing between them and those that endorse the relevant motivations and/or act upon them. Of course, you still might maintain that it there is no moral distinction to be drawn, but I don't think your spirits help demonstrate this.

David, those examples were just a response to Mike, who asked, "Merely having a desire to do something wrong makes you worse?" I was arguing that yes, merely having a desire to do something wrong, independent of what actions one might end up performing, makes an agent worse. They weren't intended to apply directly to the debate about homosexuality. This arose as a side issue because of the amendment I suggested to John's position at the top.


I understand that you were responding to Mike, not talking about homosexuality per se. Nevertheless, I think my points apply to that more general issue:

"Merely having a desire to do something wrong makes you worse?"

The general points are (in reverse):

1. Your spirits example might seem to some (such as myself) to support not a positive answer to this question, but a positive answer to the question: "Merely endorsing (or failing to condemn) a desire to do something wrong makes you worse?"

2. (Morally) "worse" is ambiguous: It could mean "less in line with moral value" or "less in line with what one morally ought to do." Given OIC, there is logical space for a view on which these come apart, such that Person A might be morally less good (worse in the first sense) than Person B, yet be no less righteous (worse in the second sense). This might be true if Person A has a morally bad desire (such as a murderous one) that is necessarily beyond his control.

Sorry, I meant that there is logical space even on a view where the right/wrong just is the furthering/avoidance of the good/bad. There is, of course, plenty of logical space for this on other views.


Rereading my own comment (made quite early this morning) I realized that I made it sound as though I were just reiterating points aimed at the "general issue" of homosexuality. I actually meant that I was taking your issue as the more general one (about all wrong desires rather than just (purportedly) homosexuality) and that I meant to be making points relevant to that. So what I wrote two posts up is meant to be directed, specifically, at your disagreement with Mike. Sorry if there was any confusion. If there was none, sorry (to all) for the clutter.

Okay, David, let me try again.

I'm a little surprised at the idea that the pro-suffering spirits of my example could be brought to the same level as the pro-happiness spirits merely by condemning their desires. But hey, intuitions conflict sometimes. That takes us to 2.

In responding to 2, can't I just appeal to the plethora of situations in which we can get rid of the bad desires, perhaps through nonrational means? As I see it, I've come up with a counterexample to the "Merely having a desire to do something wrong can't make you worse" claim, and you've showed that some situations don't give me my counterexample because the agent can't change, and now I just want to say, there are going to be situations where the agent can change and I get my counterexample so let's look at those. And I think in those cases we'll regard the agent as having successfully improved himself.


Maybe this is just brute intuition conflict, but I really don't see what's so surprising. What if the suffering-desiring spirits loathe this aspect of themselves and want terribly to care for the people, while the happiness-desiring spirits think their natural interest in these tiny creatures is pathetic and wish they could be like those who love suffering, or not care at all? It seems to me that one's first-order desire set is a very, very small part of the story about one's moral character. I'll go so far as to say that I'm not completely unsympathetic with the thought that the person who acts rightly because he struggles with his terrible desires is more admirable than the one who is naturally good.

That being said, there is perhaps little disagreement in the end. To the extent that someone is in control of his/her desire set, changes which aim that set at the good seem like moral improvements.

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