Monday, April 12, 2010

Ryan Sorba

The Nature of Marriage, by Ryan Sorba
Nearly all the philosophers, generally speaking, have included “rational” in their definition of man. Man understands. In case anyone denies it, let us remember that a rational case must be given for the denial to make sense in the first place.

Human nature is, in summation, a rational substance in relationship. Insofar as a man acts in accord with his reason, properly defined, he acts naturally, ethically, in a way that is suitable to his own form and nature. Insofar as a man allows his irrational passions to cloud his theoretical and practical rational thought processes and the actions which flow properly from them, he thinks and acts in an unnatural way, contrary to his own form and being. For human beings natural acts are rational acts.

In the case of human sexuality the primary rational or intelligible end of the reproductive organ in act is reproduction, and it is because of this primary reproductive end that the organ is conceptualized, judged, defined and labeled “reproductive” in the first place.

There is a second intelligible end as well, which flows from the first. In the case of human beings, the being produced as a result of a reproductive act is a being endowed with reason and capable of using it excellently or poorly. Now rational excellence implies instruction and instruction takes time. It takes longer to teach men to reason well than it does to teach birds to fly. Reproduction therefore includes, in addition to the biological process of physical generation, intellectual generation, and intellectual generation includes in addition to a theoretical (or speculative) education, a practical education, the inculcation virtue, in other words the reproduction and instillation of humanity, which allows the rational agent to excercise reason in act.

Just as old birds teach young birds to fly, so too must old humans teach young humans to reason. Since reproduction includes intellectual reproduction, education, which takes time, the father ought to remain united with the mother the entire time required to ensure the proper education of the being or multiple beings begotten as a result of their union. Thus, the unity of spouses in the interest of the successful and indeed excellent education of their offspring constitutes the second intelligible end of the reproductive act. To reproduce physically but not metaphysically is to reproduce in vain.

It is thusly, out of the two intelligible aspects of the reproductive process, physical and metaphysical, that the natural institution we call marriage is constituted, and indeed, we can expect natural marriage to arise spontaneously wherever reason in man prevails. Further, marriage which is more than a mere tie, it is a friendship, indeed, it the greatest of all friendships. Now the greater the friendship the more lasting and durable it is too, and the greatest of all friendships ought to be the most lasting and durable of all.
An Answer to a Common Rebuttal:

Now, some deny that reproduction and unity, marriage, can be the only rational ends of the reproductive organ in act citing a merely apparent contradiction; cases in which a married couple discovers that one or both partners are infertile due to privation or are simply beyond the age of conception. This objection however fails for the following reason.

Privations such as infertility, blindness, a missing arm, leg, etc. are accidental properties, not substantial. Accidental properties, such as privations, do not change the formal aspect of the subject. Just because a man is blind does not change the fact that he is a man, nor does it change the fact that the primary intelligible end of the eye is color and light. A man is still a man even if he is missing an arm, and indeed, a man is still a man even if he loses his ability to reason due to mental trauma. The whole is self-evidently greater than the sum of its parts and even when one or more parts fail to function properly, the whole remains what it is. The existence of privation does not change the form or intelligible end of the whole, it simply blocks the whole from succesfully realizing its full potential.

We understand this and as a result we seek to cure blindness and other ailments when and wherever we can. This agreement is implicit in the whole field of medicine. When a part fails to function properly we attempt to correct it rather than change our conceptualization of what it is altogether. Thus, accidents such as infertility, blindness or even the loss of reason are not substantial and therefore do not change the intelligible end of the subjects which possess them, but rather they are simply deficiencies in actuality.
Reproductive-type acts therefore, within the bounds of a permanant committed relationship, whether or not they are reproductive in effect, retain a rational, and not merely emotional, nature, and thus they are conjugal acts/marital acts/human acts/free acts and they are the product of a unified human agent and a single unified reproductive principle made up of a two in one flesh substace, (father plays form and mother matter) and they remain marital, even when they fail to result in actual reproduction, due to privation beyond the control of the couple involved.

A Challenge:

Those who object to the rational and thus natural definition of marriage tend to make the case that marriage is about, "shared values, mutual respect and romantic attraction." To these objectors I would ask if they would allow say, a ten year old and a ninety year old who, "share the same values, mutual respect and romantic attraction" to marry? Would they allow a thousand men who, "share values and romantic attraction to marry?" etc. There does not seem to be anything in their principle that one could use to intelligibly deny these types of relationships from being conceptualized as "marriage."

I would also ask these objectors if their definition would open the institution so wide that it would become virtually unintelligible as a concept. Just think, if a term is so broad that it can mean anything at all, does it not actually mean nothing at all?I would also ask the objector if he or she would agree that Eros, or romantic attraction must be governed by the good, in order for it to be a good type of romantic attraction. Just think, all sorts of evil acts have been committed in history in the name of Eros, romantic attraction, suicide pairs, pacts, murders, a man leaves his children and wife for another woman, all in the name of Eros. The objector ought to take this into account: the good is that which is in accord with the nature of the subject, whether object, plant, animal or man. It is perfective and fulfilling of all things and therefore that which all things seek and the story of how a thing works according to its nature.
The good must govern the passions by way of the will, the rational appetite. In the words of the Artist in the Ambulance, "We were told it long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element.' The head rules the belly through the chest--the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment--these are the indespensible liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal."
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