Sunday, April 19, 2015

On Jeff Cook's Latest Post on Same-Sex Sex

I have numerous thoughts on the Biblical claims made by Cook but I assume Preston will address all of that in short order.  Here are thoughts on some of the other things he says in the latest post:
Theoretically, however, deontology and virtue ethics are mutually exclusive. Deontology judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a set of rules; virtue ethics judges whether one is acting from and seeking to exhibit certain character traits. One theory for gauging “what is good” aims at rule following, the other aims at becoming a certain kind of person.

I still fail to see how virtue ethics and deontology are incompatible.  The terms seem to me too vague to entail wholesale incompatibility.  But let me change the discussion a bit.  Here is perhaps what Cook should say (or might say) to drive a wedge between virtue ethics and other normative ethical approaches which avoids the business about deontology.  On one way of thinking about the best way to go about figuring out how to live well is to discover some ultimate principle for guiding one's conduct.  For Kant it was the Categorical Imperative. For Mill it was the Greatest Happiness Principle.  For Divine Command Theorists it is "Obey God's commands."  On this way of thinking, in order to ground one's moral reasons, one should search for what the ultimate principle is.  We will then know who is living a morally good life or not by testing whether one's actions lives up to the principle.

But here is another way of proceeding--one which proceeds in reverse.  We discover the rules to live by, by first discovering who the virtuous person is.  We look for a virtuous Sage.  Instead of determining whether the Sage is morally good by seeing to what extent his actions live up to a principle, we discover what the principle is (or principles are) by seeing how the Sage lives.

Now, Cook has not made it at all clear that this is exactly the approach he favors, but perhaps this is how he is thinking (though his statement about climbing up the ladder makes me wonder if he denies any usefulness of rules once one becomes virtuous.  More on that later).  How do we know what sexual acts are morally good or morally bad?  We consider the actions and beliefs of the virtuous sage.  In the case at hand, we consider what Jesus, or John, or Paul, or Peter does and believes.

But if this is the case, then we're right back to asking whether Jesus, Paul, etc. believed that homosexual sex is impermissible, and then the usual hermeneutical methods are invoked to discover how they lived and what they believed.

Also, even on this way of thinking, it seems that we are still not free from adherence to rules.  For surely the following rule would be one to live by: Always act how the virtuous Sage would act.  Here is another: Never begin ethical inquiry by first looking for a general, action guiding principle.  Here is another: Always begin ethical inquiry by looking for a virtuous Sage.
Said a different way—because virtue and divine commands go hand in hand, there must be a virtue-focused reason as well for objecting to gay sex—but none has been offered yet.
Justice is the virtue that inclines one to render to another what is his due.  If God has prohibited same-sex sex (and I'll let Preston speak to that) and one goes against this prohibition, then one has failed to render God at least one of the things that he is due--viz., obedience.  In which case, same-sex sex is inconsistent with having a perfectly inclined will towards justice, i.e., it is inconsistent with the virtue of justice.  In addition, if the argument herein is correct, it is inconsistent with a perfect virtue of love.  At any rate, if it is morally impermissible (instrinsically or due to a divine prohibition) then it is inconsistent with a virtue.
Finally, in reference to Preston’s virtuous son riding into the street: I am confident Young Mr. Sprinkle is kind, generous, and faithful, but in this hypothetical he is not wise and therefore he does lack some virtue. The rule—“Don’t run into the street!”—is a ladder being offered for him to climb to the new heights of wisdom, and once he is wise he will not need his dad to give him any such rules. Young Mr. Sprinkle will then act out of character. 
But doesn't the wise person act in accordance with and at least sometimes on the basis of reasons?  The wise person does not run into the street, not because she possesses some magical property, wisdom, but because she knows that acting on the following rule will get one killed, "One should run into the street without looking," and acting on the following rule will not, "One should look for traffic before running into the street."  From comments like Cook's above as well as others, it appears that Cook is committed to the view that the wise person has no use for rules or principles.  But rules and principles just are action guiding reasons.  But then the wise person, it would seem, has no action guiding reasons.  But then the wise person does not act on the basis reasons.  How, then, is such a person wise?  What is wisdom on this view?
In conclusion, I think my main contention stands: one will not—by necessity—become less virtuous by enjoying a monogamous same-sex relationship, and as such that “rule” does not aim necessarily at godliness or sanctification.
To repeat myself, what is the argument that same-sex sex is morally permissible?  It is just not clear what Cook's argument is.  Moreover, why is same-sex sex morally permissible?  What is it about same-sex sex that renders it a morally permissible action?  Is it because it does not bring physical harm and any action which does not cause physical harm is permissible? Is it because any act engaged in by two consenting adults is morally permissible?  It won't do simply to say that it is not inconsistent with virtue ad nauseam, for to claim this is already to assume that it is permissible.

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