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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Psychological Egoism and the Homosexuality Debate

One of the great mysteries in the public debate over homosexuality is the widespread acceptance of genetic determinism argument for homosexuality -- a homosexual simple cannot help themselves so they cannot be obliged not to be gay. the religious spin on this is that since it's genetic, it must be considered God's gift and will for that person -- and you can't go against God. The mystery of this is that there is no evidence at all that genetics plays a significant role but plenty of evidence that a convergent set of certain types of environmental factors over the course of a person's development from pre-natal to childhood to adulthood can induce an intransigent homosexual orientation - a case such that as a child the person is helpless to do anything about and for which he cannot be held responsible for its origin but which is something he can start to deal with as an adult and the prevention of which is something the community can control and prevent for the children.

But a better explanation is that the genetic argument is just an archetype of legitimacy that characterizes the worldview of the age and reduces it to a cliche that does our thinking for us. The real point is the socially settled view that humans have evolved from nothing but natural causes, thus their behavior is determined in all cases. Also, human behavior is necessarily egoistic and hedonistic, focused only on the basic instincts for survival and pleasure in common with other animals. Consequently, no one can behave in any other way that to seek these and that no matter how things appear otherwise. One might object that if this were true how could we have ever come by our intuitions about morality or our great moral institutions. The answer given is that these formed over the course of time as a kind of cultural evolution. Practices which had value at the time for encouraging survival against hostile forces and which were reinforced by repetition to become habits. As habits they continued to be observed even when the original motives for introducing them ceased to exist. When asked about them now, we no longer see how it came to be that we observed such customs, although we still feel the note of approval and disapproval about following or failing to follow them. We thus take them to basic intuitions of moral truth, even though they are just detritus from previous circumstances. Thus the Voice of God in the Soul turns out just to be a shadow of our evolutionary history.

But once this has been dispelled by scientific discovery that needs neither God nor morals to play a role in explanation, we now see that there could not be any possible moral grounds to base a rejection of homosexuality. Further since as a survival driven organism humans must necessarily seek themselves, they could not be obliged to do otherwise. This means that is we are to speak of moral categories at all we must speak of a right to pursue ones own satisfaction as one sees fit. Finally, one one says for whatever reason that someone cannot enjoy their homosexual lifestyle, that denies them a pleasure they desperately desire and also adds the pain of being shamefully regarded. Since hedonism is also hardwired in the species, the cannot be obliged to accept this misery.

As this account came to be developed, starting with the advent of early modern thought's adoption of nominalism and its denial of formal and final causes, it was thought that (or at least presented as if) these ideals would be no threat to conventional morality. But history has shown us that once natural teleology has been rejected, panmaterialism erodes the conventional codes progressively. The shift in perspective from Aristotelianism to Corpuscularianism in the 17th Century has undercut the foundations of traditional morality, but not all at once. But the history of modern western thought has been the progress of the acceptance of one previously unthinkable conclusion after another so that now what has become unthinkable is morality or justice in the traditional sense.

So the genetic argument is only an ectype for the real argument and the grip it has especially on the rising generation is that we have crossed another threshold of unthinkability. The problem with it is that this explanation does not adequately explain the experience we all have of moral reflection. In deciding what the right thing to do in a situation, and especially in situations when we are faced with conflicting moral demands, we have the capacity to reason from moral intuitions to novel applications which being situation based are necessarily new but also seen to be sound. We are also able to discern exception cases that enable us to distinguish actual duties from merely prima facie dutiesAlso beside the ability to deliberate with these principles , we also see an appropriate emotional response of approval, disaproval, shame, or guilt - including the difference between moral guilt and just regret for getting discovered - and that the fitness between the two is logical. If our intuitions were simple de facto affirmations that have passed there sell-by date, we shouldn't expect this to be the case. But if they are genuine intuitions of moral reasoning along with their appropriate feelings, then it is odd that such should emerge from the flux of cultural evolution alone. I can give real and valid assent to the idea that I am guilty of wrongdoing, which suggests less an old piece of doctrine and more a Voice speaking to me about my conduct.