Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Loss of Philosophical Language in the Modern World: Why We Need to Relearn Aquinas

The other day, as I hopped in my car and flipped on the radio, I was introduced to four of five people amicably discussing the Proposition Eight in California debate on NPR. In their intellectual (and often nasal) tones of voice, they were outlining the present court case. They were diligently exploring the prosecution’s argument, while rather blithely rejecting the defense’s foundation. (Thank you, NPR.) Two things struck me as the speakers droned on. I will take this post to outline the first.

One of the speakers brought up the “procreative” argument against gay-marriage. Of course, she brought it up simply so she could mock it roundly. She began by paraphrasing the judge on the case as saying something to the extent of: “the last couple I married were both between the ages of 84 and 91; I don’t think there is going to be much procreation going on there.” (Mental image: Delete. Empty Recycle Bin. Thank you.) This is the common rebuttal to the “procreative” argument that states that gay couples can’t have kids: well, sterile couples and old couples can’t have children; and therefore, they have the same procreative potential as a gay couple. We allow sterile couples to marry; why don’t we allow gay couples?

I’ll admit that this rebuttal often has me scratching my head. There’s a simplicity to it that seems difficult to overcome, and as I was listening to the radio, I tried hard to find the proper response. My mind went immediately to the idea of a heterosexual couple being “ordered toward procreation,” even if they can’t or won’t have children. I directly cast this thought from my head for two reasons: 1) It would be scoffed at by supporters of gay-marriage, labeled as pointless intellectual obfuscation. 2) I wasn’t exactly sure how “practical” this abstract idea was. Then I had a mini-revelation: We distrust philosophical concepts that seem abstract because we think the abstract is somehow disconnected from reality. Well, this just isn’t the case.

To say that a heterosexual marriage is ordered toward procreation – independent of sterility, conjugal relations, intention, or age – does in fact hold meaning. But much of the modern world seems to be completely ignorant of philosophic terms – and, as such, cannot grasp this reality. “Being ordered toward procreation” becomes a meaningless term, since anything stated conceptually is misunderstood. And much of the rest of the modern world that isn’t ignorant is suspicious of these philosophic terms; to them, it rings too much of medievalism scholasticism: it’s too pre-Enlightenment and Descartes. And to others, a term like this is simply an abstract concept used to justify bigoted beliefs already held. Last, it can be argued that abstract concepts have no real place in practical, physical life.

However, my study of Thomism (and it is so little it is laughable) at the very least allows me to remember that, like Aristotle, Aquinas believed in the connection of body and soul. They perhaps can be discussed as separate terms, but they coexist. Therefore, abstract philosophic universals – like “heterosexual marriage is ordered toward procreation” – exists both in theory, but also in physical reality.

There is a physical procreative difference between the elderly couple the judge mentioned and a gay couple. In the same sense, there is a procreative similarity between the elderly couple that cannot have children and a heterosexual couple that is actively procreating.

I realize that I am not exploring fully the term “ordered toward procreation,” but that’s not the point of my revelation. The point I realized in my car the other day as the NPR speaker scoffed at “procreative argument” against gay-marriage, was that our modern world is sorely missing its education in philosophy. Most of the world is ignorant or suspicious of its relevance to physical life; and this is an awful fact. Perhaps it is only when we begin to understand the practicality, relevance, beauty, and importance of understanding the purpose and truth of philosophy that we will be able to understand the reality behind certain politic arguments.

No comments:

Post a Comment