William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 151 of 426

We Have Evolved Beyond Evolution: How Can Evolution Help?

There is an argument favored by some fans of evolutionary psychology that goes something like this:

For the vast majority of our 150,000 years or so on the planet, we lived in small, close-knit groups, working hard with primitive tools to scratch sufficient food and shelter from the land. Sometimes we competed with other small groups for limited resources. Thanks to evolution, we are supremely well adapted to that world, not only physically, but psychologically, socially and through our moral dispositions.

But this is no longer the world in which we live. The rapid advances of science and technology have radically altered our circumstances over just a few centuries. The population has increased a thousand times since the agricultural revolution eight thousand years ago. Human societies consist of millions of people. Where our ancestors’ tools shaped the few acres on which they lived, the technologies we use today have effects across the world, and across time, with the hangovers of climate change and nuclear disaster stretching far into the future.

That is the major premise. The minor premise is: “evolutionary pressures have not developed for us a psychology that enables us to cope with the moral problems our new power creates.”

The rollocking conclusion is:

Moral Bioenhancement…Enhancing our moral motivation would enable us to act better for distant people, future generations, and non-human animals…Our knowledge of human biology — in particular of genetics and neurobiology — is beginning to enable us to directly affect the biological or physiological bases of human motivation, either through drugs, or through genetic selection or engineering, or by using external devices that affect the brain or the learning process.

That was a lot of words, so let me simplify. (1) Evolution made us exactly and everything that we are. (2) Through evolution we learned to create many things. (3) We are now beyond evolution. (4) So we must use our evolutionarily gained skills to create things to catch back up to where we would have evolved to if we evolved along with our inventions.

Make sense?

David Stove called this approach the Cave Man way: “you admit that human life is not now what it would be if Darwin’s theory were true, but also insist that it used to be like that.”

In the olden days (so the story goes), human populations [were subject to evolution]…But our species…escaped long ago from the brutal régime of natural selection. We developed a thousand forms of attachment, loyalty, cooperation, and unforced subordination, every one of them quite incompatible with a constant and merciless competition to survive…

The Cave Man story, however implausible, is at any rate not inconsistent with itself. But the combination of it with Darwin’s theory of evolution is inconsistent. That theory is a universal generalization about all terrestrial species at any time. Hence, if the theory says something which is not true now of our own species (or another), then it is not true—finish…

If Darwin’s theory of evolution is true, no species can ever escape from the process of natural selection.

In short, we cannot evolve beyond ourselves.

Paradoxically, purveyors of the Cave Man argument are split on whether ancient mankind was peaceful, coexisting with nature as in a James Cameron fantasy and that he is now hyper-competitive and a positive harm to himself, or that mankind was then brutal, leading nasty, violent existences and that he is now on the verge of New Consciousness, Utopia is within his reach if only he would do X.

X for the authors—the ever-appalling Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson—of the current incarnation of the Cave Man is jiggering with genes, i.e. “moral bioenhancement.” Something like: Stop the badness in the womb before it escapes and pollutes the world.

Savulescu, in the manner of our president asking if he has any faults and his retorting “I care too much,” offers three “criticisms” of his theory.

Objection #1: We may be too late to apply our panacea. “Moral educators have existed within societies across the world for thousands of years — Buddha, Confucius and Socrates, to name only three — yet we still lack the basic ethical skills we need to ensure our own survival is not jeopardised.” The omission is noted.

Objection #2: Who can evolve beyond evolution and discover the way out of being human? Moral gene replacement therapies “will have to be developed and selected by the very people who are in need of them.” And how can this be if those who will do the developing are stuck in the pre-enlightened evolutionary state? Savulescu has no answer save to say it “is possible for humankind to improve morally to the extent that we can use our new and overwhelming powers of action for the better.”

Objection #3: Some people might actually vote for Mitt Romney against their better judgment. (Just kidding!) “[T]here is good reason to believe that voters are more likely to get it wrong than right.” All we need do is stop “Powerful business interests” from holding us back from voting the proper way.

Rarely do we come across a man who argues so badly and yet reaches such a lofty position as Savulescu has. The only explanation is indeed evolutionary: many people like to have power over other people and will say anything to get it.


Note: the appalling Savulescu with Persson has written a book entitled Unfit for the future: The urgent need for moral enhancement. Has anybody a copy they would like to lend? I’m averse to putting money in that man’s pocket.

Reasoning To Belief: Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism — Part Last: Skulls Full Of Nothing

Don’t Think
Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part Interlude, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Part Last. Buy the book ($12.92 as of last glance).

There is a curious phenomenon unwinding throughout secularism. One wing is busy elevating animals to the status of humans. And another is dedicated to demoting humans to the level of animals. The overarching goal appears to meet in the middle and declare as equal, in every respect, human creatures with, say, dolphins and colobi, or any other species which is deemed photogenic or does not regularly make appearances on dinner menus.

The former are not just “outraged” members of PETA, or those who push fur-wearing bans. This new group of the Very Concerned are scientists, like those signing the “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” or who organize conferences around “Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals.”

Those who attend First Annual Francis Crick Memorial Conference will be lectured on a “purely data-driven perspective on the neural correlates of consciousness.” There the “most advanced quantitative techniques for measuring and monitoring consciousness will be presented, with the topics of focus ranging from exploring the properties of neurons deep in the brainstem” presented. It is neurons—exceptionally scientific objects of study—deep in the brainstem that tell us that monkeys are the same as you and I. Not in the sense of being conscious, which animals of course are, but in the sense that their intellect and rationality and our intellect and rationality are equal.

It is also neurons deep in the brain which tell us that humans are animals. Not in the dull sense that like annelids we are capable of self-motivation, or like birds we respire, or like mosquitoes we like to eat blood, particularly in our case in the form of breakfast sausage. No, even past popes knew we had bodies and were animals in that sense. What scientists are now “discovering” is that our brains are mere mechanical engines. Input data, provide a glucose power supply, turn the crank and what comes out is perfectly predictable. We are just machines, these scientists say: unthinking, deterministic machines. Slaves to our neurons.

Wait, that’s wrong: not slaves. A slave is a man wrongly imprisoned. Neurologists tell us there is nothing sentient there that can know it is imprisoned. We are just masses of tissue, reacting in pre-programed, unwilled ways to external stimuli, just as the dumbest gnat or cockroach does.

These two views—the simultaneous elevation of animals and demotion of mankind—are of course incompatible. They cannot both be true. If some animals are rational, intelligent beings, then so are we, but then we cannot be mere machines. If we are robots acting out the script provided by our selfish genes, then so are animals, neither group being entitled to any special treatment. Yet we race to embrace both theories. We are therefore converging towards a special state of lunacy.

It is partly a psychological question why this is occurring in our society, but since Yours Truly has no expertise in deviant behavior I remain silent on this matter. There is a theological explanation for our comportment, but we can’t bear thinking on this. Therefore, let’s jump right to the philosophical underpinnings.

Now, if it cannot be so that some animals are just like humans and all animals including humans are unthinking beasts, it can be so that both views are wrong and that instead, just as common sense and all observation suggests, we humans are unique, far different than any animal. That, except when under the influence of alcohol or theory, we are possessed of rationality, of self- and other-awareness, of intentionality. It “should be obvious that it is simply a conceptual impossibility that [intentionality] should ever be explained in terms of or reduced to anything material”.

Free will, as you might guess, is perfectly explainable:

In an Aristotelian-Thomistic analysis, the relationship between a choice and the action it results in can be understood as an instance of formal-cum-final causation. The matter of “material cause” of the action is the sequence of neural firing patterns, muscular movements, and the like by means of which the action is carried out. The formal and final causes of the action—that which gives intelligible structure to the movements—is just the soul considered as a kind of form, and in particular the activities of thinking and willing that are distinctive of the soul’s intellective and volitional powers. The action is free precisely because it has this as its form, rather than having the form, say, of an involuntary muscular spasm. Nor are the intellect and will themselves determined by such things as physical law, because they exist as parts of the realm of formal and final causes, not material and efficient ones.

Let’s don’t forget that Aristotle did not use the word cause in its modern sense of “temporally ordered events”, but as answers to four Ws: What’s the thing made of? (material cause) What’s its form? (formal cause) What actualized its potential? (efficient cause) What’s the thing for? (final cause). A thing must have all four causes: it cannot have just one. In particular, all things have a final cause, in the sense that all things (almost always unconsciously) are “directed toward” some “goal.” This should be utterly uncontentious, given that we see that everything in fact is “directed toward” some (limited range) of “goals.”

But it is contentious, and many moderns reject the idea of final causality. Mostly because they don’t like the implications of accepting it, or because they believe that “science” has proven final causality false.

Let me be clear about something. However widely accepted, these claims are, each and every one of them, simply untrue. They are false. Wrong. Mistaken. Erroneous. Non-factual.

(Regular readers may recognize the tone.)

Rejecting final causation “immediately created a number of serious philosophical problems that have never been settled to this day, but instead have only gotten progressively worse; indeed, historically unprecedented in their bizarreness and rationality.” In Yours Truly’s own field, the “problem” of induction is one of these. Grown men and women actually deny that inductive beliefs are rational (while never ceasing to use them). What this did to statistics is obvious (hello, p-value!).

But the rejection of final causality has also slain rationality in neuroscience. Feser quotes W.T. Stace: “The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed, not by purpose, but by blind forces and laws.” That view led to the slaughter of the universal morality—a subject Feser’s pursues briefly, and which we’ll investigate another day.

For now, we examine the logical conclusion of the modern enterprise: eliminative materialism, a fully mechanical picture of all reality, including the stuff that goes on inside our heads. We have already seen the proof that our intellect cannot be material, yet there are is no shortage of scientists and philosophers who claim the mind does not even exist, except perhaps as an epiphenomenon of wiring together large numbers of neurons, each following a preset “program.” As “John Searle (who, as we have seen, is no religious believer) has argued, every form of materialism implicitly denies the existence of the mind, whether or not it intends to.”

For as Searle has emphasized, there is a difference between following a rule and behaving as if one were following a rule. Suppose someone tells me to follow the following algorithm: 1. Move from the front of the desk to the back of it and go to step 2; 2. Move from the back of the desk to the front and go back to step 1. If I comply, then I will begin circling the desk. Now suppose an earthquake knocks a marble off the desk and after hitting the floor it begins to circle the desk. The marble acts as if it were following the algorithm, but of course it isn’t, while I really am following it.

Because of intentionality, of course. The marble has none. Feser gives several—as in several—other, what should be well known, but which are not, arguments proving, and not just suggesting, that the mechanical picture of our minds is false. He also shows that final causality is necessary to understand or explain what we are.

So what happened? Why were Aristotle and Aquinas abandoned? Nothing more banal than this: “Apart from scholars who specialize in these matters, most academics and other intellectuals, and certainly most journalists and popular writers, simply cannot think about the Middle Ages, Scholasticism, the scientific revolution, and related topics except in terms on the crudest clichés and caricatures.” In other words, laziness and desire the old stuff be wrong.

[T]he rabid anti-Scholasticism of the early moderns was driven less by dispassionate intellectual considerations than by a political agenda: to reorient human life away from the next world and toward this one, and to weaken the rational credentials of religion so as to make this project seem justifiable and inevitable.

I can testify that one can graduate from a PhD program in the sciences at a prestigious university and never, not once, be required to take a philosophy course. There was no expectation that we would even know who Aristotle was. This is especially screwy in my own field of probability applied to physical models because we toss ideas of causality around all the time. Fancy never having to think about what you’re doing! As Mermin said about quantum mechanics: it was “Shut up and calculate.”

But, as Feser says, Aristotle will have his revenge. There is a growing interest in some of us to return to our roots,to discover what we’ve been missing out on, to dispense with “the problem of this” and “the problem of that” in a coherent, sensible, satisfying, and correct way. Of discovering, that is, what is true. The Last Superstition is thus required reading for any scientist who thought they knew what they were talking about when it came to philosophy.

Update I just saw this at Feser’s site. Watch the video. Hilarious. “These are thrilling times.”


Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part Interlude, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Part Last.

Movies I’ll Always Watch (If They’re On)

This is it! Last day of vacation, girls and boys. To honor doing nothing, here is complete fluff: a list of movies that I will always watch. These are not the only movies I watch, nor the only ones I like: just flicks that if they make an appearance on television (really only TCM) I will tune in to, even if I’ve seen them recently.

As a memory aide, I used the well-organized movie site Films 101. I sorted by year and went from 2010 to 1930, glancing at the entries. My list today would not be the same as the one I might have compiled twenty years ago, which would have been more heavily weighted toward science fiction.

I have been honest: every movie I would always watch is on the list, even the bad ones. But my memory is not particularly good, so if somebody reminds me of a classic, I’ll add it. My journey through the years confirmed what I already believed: that movies are growing less and less watchable. That joy and beauty have been replaced with cynicism and ugliness. And we musn’t forget the horrible intrusion of computers, the use of which is inversely proportional to a movie’s timelessness.

These are only in rough order, crudely sub-grouped by actor, director, or genre.

  • Double Indemnity The origin of the anklet parody in Naked Gun (see below).
  • Top Hat
  • Stalag 17 Ach so.
  • Swing Time
  • The Apartment
  • Shall We Dance Pretty much anything with Fred Astaire, really. Especially Holiday Inn or any movie featuring Edward Everett Horton.
  • Adam’s Rib Or many of the other Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn matchups, esp. Desk Set.
  • Springtime in the Rockies If you haven’t seen these early John Payne vehicles, you’re missing out. Like Tin Pan Alley or The Great American Broadcast. Plus, E.E. Horton!
  • Miracle on 34th Street Perfect. Maybe I should put this first.
  • Witness for the Prosecution Billy Wilder tops any list.
  • Laura The best film noir.
  • The Blue Gardenia Maybe the second best.
  • Grand Hotel Soap opera; Wallace Berry at his best.
  • Road to Morocco Really any Hope-Crosby Road flick.
  • Going My Way Really any Bing Crosby movie, even the poor ones.
  • My Favorite Brunette Really most Bob Hope movies; those before, say, 1950. The ones after that don’t travel so well.
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner Monty Woolley. What? You don’t know this one? What a treat!
  • Mr Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse First seen on channel 50 with Bill Kennedy at the movies. Add in any other early Cary Grant movie, esp. those with Irene Dunne.
  • Casablanca
  • The Thing From Another World The original, baby.
  • The Thing Best remake since The Maltese Falcon
  • Big Trouble in Little China I’m still searching for the alley in SF’s Chinatown.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still I’ve heard they made a remake.
  • War of the Worlds I’ve heard they made a remake.
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Big Sleep You get the idea: add Bogart.
  • The Seven Samurai or most early Akira Kurosawa, especially Yojimbo and Ikiru.
  • The Thin Man Any in this series, esp. The Thin Man Goes Home.
  • Libeled Lady Or any other William Powell-Myrna Loy flick. Got a set of these for my birthday once. Love it!
  • Romance on the High Seas Any early Doris Day; especially Teacher’s Pet (Clark Gable) or Love Me or Leave Me (James Cagney).
  • To Be or Not to Be Mel Brooks remake. Jack Benny better on radio.
  • A Night at the Opera You’re supposed to say Duck Soup, but I won’t. I’ll say Horse Feathers instead.
  • Singin’ in the Rain But I always go to the bathroom in the “Gotta Dance” interlude.
  • The Quiet Man Often heard while watching: “Didn’t you just watch that?”
  • Donovan’s Reef The King of the United States of America.
  • Big Jake Your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault. It won’t matter. I’m gonna blow your head off. No matter what else happens, no matter who gets killed I’m gonna blow your head off.
  • The Searchers Add in Rio Bravo, and maybe any other John Wayne movie
  • Buck Privates Yes, or most any Abbot and Costello team-up.
  • The Sound of Music
  • From Here to Eternity
  • Tora, Tora, Tora! Pearl Harbor is an interest
  • Twelve O’Clock High
  • A Shot in the Dark
  • A Christmas Story The Ovaltine secret-decoder gag was first used on the Bing Crosby radio show, St Patrick’s Day 1947, with Margaret O’Brien sending in boxtops.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life And I’m admittin’ it, too.
  • Switching Channels Yes, one of the many remakes of His Girl Friday, which is herewith on the list.
  • Naked Gun! From the Files of Police Squad Cops and women don’t mix. It’s like swallowing a spoonful of Drano. Sure, it’ll clean you out. But it’ll leave you hollow inside.
  • Hot Shots! If you have trouble hitting your objective, your secondary targets are here and here: an accordion factory and a mime school.
  • Jaws
  • Man of the Century I provided a link since most will not have heard of this.

In addition to these, any old B mystery movie or vehicle featuring a big band or musical with Betty Grable or Alice Faye. Also, movies with James Cagney, Jimmy Durante, Uncle Felix or dancing before “choreography” hit, as parodied by Danny Kaye in White Christmas—a movie which should be added to the list.

Your list?

(Your author, incidentally, says, “I’m seventeen! Plus thirty.”)

Help Wanted With Ideas For Survey About Who Will Win Presidency

It’s the start of the long, last week of summer (and since I’ve spent the bulk of it in San Francisco, there was no summer at all), where most of us will and should be away from the internet. So for those who stuck around, something distracting.

On 31 December 2011 I asked us all Who Will Win The Presidency? To refresh our memories, I said:

My own prediction is Mitt Romney.

I stick by myself.

DAV, Luis, and JH—even 49erDweet and Uncle Mile!—said, and I quote, “Obama will win.” Many echoed this. Only the very, very few, like bob, Joy, and Doug M, agreed with your host and projected Mitt Romney.

Anybody wish to change their minds?

Four years ago I ran a survey in which I asked who would win but also who people wanted to win. My idea was to study the idea of wishcasting. A wishcast is one in which the probability of an event is skewed high or low depending on whether the event is wished for or not. I want to repeat that survey after the Democrat convention, like I did last time.

After the convention, the battle lines are more or less drawn, and opinions roughly set. But it is still a point in time far enough from the election that uncertainty in the outcome is present.

Problem last time was that the survey was picked up by the most satisfied Pharyngula, a Utopian and blogger of limited range but large audience, who linked to it calling me (what is true) a conservative. Unfortunately, a great many of that man’s readers were and are unused to civilized discourse and confused, as many on the left do, a disruption with a valid argument.

Pharyngula’s fans felt that if they voted repeatedly for Obama, and input absurd data, that this would somehow show me a thing or two. It did indeed show me something. I had to throw away all the data from the point at which Myers gave the survey a plug.

But since elections are only every four years, and by definition of national interest, I don’t want to pass up on the chance to do this again, and do it right. As before, this is self-funded, and since I’ve just learned that the lottery ticket I purchased yesterday was defective, the level of funds I can afford to pay to myself is severely limited.

I want to have both Obama and Romney supporters; to have just one side would not be of any interest. Only sincere participants are needed, though. More are better: a few thousand would be terrific. Craig’s List is probably out, as a mechanism to solicit bodies. So are sites like that mentioned above. They have too many, what my old Sergeant used to call, over-zealoused followers.

Given that this is the internet, this may be an impossible task. But all ideas welcomed.

Thanks everybody!

Reasoning To Belief: Feser’s The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism — Part VI: Akin And Abortion After Rape

Stop in the name of the Law!

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part Interlude, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Part Last.

Earlier this month, Missouri Congressman Todd Akin uttered these infamous words: “I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape.”

Oops, no. Sorry. Wrong quote. Those were actually the words of Whoopi Goldberg spoken in defense of convicted child rapist and film director Roman Polanksi. Goldberg was of the opinion that the little so-and-so (the 13-year-old girl, not Polanski), had it coming. Or something. The price Goldberg paid for her “slip” was exactly nil.

I have it now! What Akin said, in answer to a question of the abortion in the case of rape, was this:

Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

Not a particularly fluid explanation, and a poor choice with legitimate. What Akin meant was that in the cases of, as Whoopi would put it, “rape-rape”, a woman is less likely to become impregnated than if she has intercourse with her husband. And that even if she did become pregnant as a result of rape, “the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.” Because abortion is always wrong.

Incidentally, it is an empirical, not a moral, question whether a woman is less likely to become pregnant from a rape. The answer is therefore irrelevant to whether it is moral to kill the baby. As in irrelevant. Akin and his many critics, including those who should know better, forgot this. Nevertheless, here is a quotation from one doctor1, showing that Akin might not have been far wrong:

A 1988 textbook, the second edition of “Human Sex and Sexuality” by Edwin B. Steen and James H. Price, estimates a 2 percent pregnancy rate. A 2012 textbook, “Comprehensive Gynecology,” 6th edition, gives an estimate of between 2 percent and 5 percent and states that “in the experience of most sexual assault centers, the chance of pregnancy occurring is quite low.” Estimates depend on flawed methods, with inevitable biases. An experiment to give an accurate figure is, of course, impossible. And does the estimate really matter to the woman who has been raped? Either she gets pregnant, or she doesn’t.

Another tidbit: the woman behind Roe v Wade, Norma McCorvey, who wanted women to legally kill their fetuses, testified to the Supreme Court of impregnations due to rape. She recanted in 1988 and said to the Senate2:

The affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court didn’t happen the way I said it did, pure and simple. I lied! Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffey needed an extreme case to make their client look pitiable. Rape seemed to be the ticket. What made rape even worse? A gang rape! It all started out as a little lie, but my little lie grew and became more horrible with each telling.

One imagines (this was 1973) a young Al Sharpton taking notes. Anyway, back to Feser!

Natural law says rape is wrong. We all, at some level, acknowledge this when we say rape is wrong. And it is absolutely wrong, which means it is always wrong, regardless where and when people happen to be. It would be wrong even if a body of men made rape “legal”—say, in Hollywood, as long as the perpetrator had won one of: Oscar (earned or honorary), Emmy, Tony. A Golden Globe allows only groping.

But why is rape wrong? It is hardly an explanation to say, “Because natural law says it is.” The question is: how do we arrive the morally true principle “rape is wrong” from natural law?

The “nature” of a thing, from an Aristotelian point of view, is, as we’ve seen, the form or essence it instantiates. Hence, once again to haul in my triangle example, it is of the essence, nature, or form of a triangle to have three perfectly straight sides. Notice that this remains true even if some particular triangle does not have three perfectly straight sides, and indeed even though…every material instance of a triangle has some defect or other. The point is that these are defects, failures to conform to the nature of essence of triangularity; the fact that such defective triangles exist in the natural world and in accordance with the laws of physics doesn’t make them any less “unnatural” in the relevant sense.

To change one of Feser’s example in a way I hope he approves of, suppose it were discovered that a gene or genes were associated with rapists: rapists have this gene or genes more often than do non-rapists. This empirical fact would not make rape “natural” or morally right. Nor would we suddenly attend “rapists pride” parades.

Nor would it be plausible to suggest that God “made [rapists]3 that way,” any more than God ‘makes’ people to be born blind, deaf, armless, legless, prone to alcoholism, or autistic. God obviously allows these things, for whatever reason; but it doesn’t follow that He positively wills them, and it certainly doesn’t follow that they are “natural.”…

In the same way, should it turn out that a desire to molest children has a genetic basis, no one would conclude from this that sexual attraction toward children is a good thing, even if the person who has it was able to satisfy his disgusting urges without actually touching any children…

Now I realize, of course, that many readers will acknowledge that we do in fact have these reactions, but would nevertheless write them off as mere reactions. “Our tendency to find something personally disgusting,” they will sniff, “doesn’t show that there is anything objectively wrong with it.” This is the sort of stupidity-masquerading-as-insight that absolutely pervades modern intellectual life, as it has the same source as so many other contemporary intellectual pathologies…For we need to ask why there is a universal, or near universal, reaction of disgust to certain behaviors, and why certain traits count as unnatural even though there is a genetic factor underlying them.

Human beings “have a nature or essence, and the good for them, like the good for anything else, is defined in terms of this nature or essence.” And the “good for us is in fact whatever tends to fulfill our nature or essence in the sense of realizing the natural ends or purposes of our various natural capacities.” Doing what is good “may require a fight against one’s desires and such a fight might in some cases be so extremely difficult and unpleasant that one might not have the stomach for it.”

But can we derive an ought from an is? Yes.

[H]uman beings have a formal cause—their form, essence, or nature—and this formal cause entails certain final causes for their various capacities. So, for example, our nature or essence is to be rational animals, and reason or intellect has as its final cause the attainment of truth. Hence the attainment of truth is a good for us..[T]he sense of “good” in question here is a completely objective one, connoting, not some subjective preference we happen to have for a thing, but rather the conformity of a thing to a nature or essence as a kind of paradigm (the way that, again, a “good” triangle is just one which has perfectly straight sides…).

Given our capacities and the existence of formal causes, “what is good for human beings in the use of those capacities is to use them only in a way consistent with this final cause.” And all this “remains true whatever the reason is for someone’s desire to act in a way contrary to nature’s purpose—whether simple intellectual error, habituated vice, genetic defect, or whatever—however strong that desire is.” Including, of course, a desire to rape.

As Feser says, this “subject requires a book of its own.” He only provides the barest sketch and covers only the most contentious areas. Nowhere does he, nor do I, for example, attempt to show, in complete detail, just why rape is wrong. He shows why abortion is wrong, even in the case of rape. It is the killing of a human life—in a, it hardly needs to be said, unnatural way.


1Disclosure: I met Dr Orient at the DPP conference where I was invited to speak.

2Interestingly, the linked article was written by a woman who was conceived in a rape.

3Feser used club feet as his example, not rapist. This is my change.

Read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part Interlude, Part IV, Part V, Part VI. Part Last.

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