Issue One


Ideo-Homeosis: An Anselmian Morphology of Ideas by Peter Antich

Other Philosophical Topics

The Positivist Attack on Locke’s Liberalism by Luis J. Romo Jr.

Censorship of Same-Sex Marriage by Rose M. Griffith

Ideo-Homeosis: An Anselmian Morphology of Ideas

Peter Antich

In his reply to Gaunilo, St. Anselm of Canterbury suggests a way of forming ideas that does not rely on either direct experience or knowledge about species and genera. According to Anselm, it is possible to form a meaningful idea of a thing from the ideas of similar things only. With this suggestion, Anselm opens up a field of epistemological inquiry into a faculty of conceptualization which I will call ideo-homeosis– something of a misnomer. I do not mean that one idea is replaced by another, but rather that it is formed out of similarity with another.  In this essay I will draw out from Anselm’s original thought certain latent norms of and limitations on this faculty.

Anslem’s main argument in the Proslogion, to which Gaunilo objects, is that a ‘that-than-which-a-better-cannot-be- thought’ (hereon, X) must necessarily exist. But Gaunilo argues that perhaps one is not really able to think of a X. He claims not to be able to “think of or entertain [X] in [his] mind … in terms of an object known to [him] by species or genus…” [Anslem, p. 107]  This is because “neither [does he] know the reality itself, nor can [he] form the idea from some other things like it since … it is such that nothing could be like it.” [Anslem, p. 107]  In contrast, one can think of a man one does not know precisely because he belongs to the species man, and is similar to other men, i.e., because one can form an idea of this man from his species. However, it is not possible to form an idea of X on the grounds of species or likenesses. Assuming that one can only form an idea according to species or likeness, one cannot form the idea of X. Further, if one does not know the reality itself of X, one simply cannot think of (i.e., have in one’s mind) X at all.  For Gaunilo the verbal formula X has no object, and thus when one thinks X one is not thinking anything meaningful, but merely the word X. One thinks of X it in terms of an ‘affectation of the mind’ and an imagination of what the word might mean.

Put briefly: if p) one can think of X as a real object known either generically or specifically or have X in one’s mind, then q) one either 1) knows X in itself, or 2) can form an idea of X from similar things. Because, according to Gaunilo, neither 1) nor 2) are the case, and thus q) is not the case, modus tollens, p) cannot be the case.

Anselm’s reply to this argument objects that 2) is in fact the case, i.e., one can form an idea of X from similar things. Anselm claims that the “less good is similar, in so far as it is good, to that which is more good.” [Anslem, p 120]  This means that the most good, i.e. that-than-which-a-more-good-cannot-be-thought, is similar to the less good. Recall that Gaunilo’s objection to 2) was that X is similar to nothing. Now, because X is similar to some ~X (meaning a that-than-which-a-more-good-can-be-thought), and we can form an idea of an object from similar objects, we can form an idea of X from some ~X. This means that the idea of X can be formed from its similarities to any object with evaluative predicates (since X is characterized as the most valuable). It is hardly necessary to add that there are indeed such objects (~X), and thus that we can form an idea of X.

The argument laid out, let me make some clarifications and draw some consequences. First, two similar objects are similar only in terms of their common predicates. Anselm says the more good is similar to the less good in so far as it is good. Thus, we can define a similarity as a common predicate. Put concisely, two objects are similar insofar as they have a similarity, and they have a similarity insofar as they share a common predicate. Second, we form an idea of an object from the objects that it is similar to only by means of their similarities. This means we form the idea of an object from its predicates. Consequently, these very predicates render the object thinkable at all. E.g., assume I were to tell you that a “qwertyuiop” (something which presumably you have no previous idea of) is similar to ice cream.  Unless you imagined in what way ice cream and a “qwertyuiop” are similar, your idea of a “qwertyuiop” would have no particular content. However, if I were to tell you that the two were similar insofar as they shared the predicate “cold,” you could form an idea of a “qwertyuiop” from this content. Ironically, you would have a mentis conceptio (i.e., you would think meaningfully, or have a thought of an object and not just words) of an object that does not in fact exist (assuming “qwertyuiop’s” aren’t, in fact, scampering around somewhere). As Sandra Visser and Thomas Wiliams note, “We can have mental conceptions of things that are completely imaginary. We cannot, however, think something that is impossible.” [Visser]  A mental conception cannot be formed only of something that is impossible, precisely because there is no such possible object to which it could correspond. One is only able to think of something impossible in the first sense, namely as a verbal formula.

Third, in the examples Anselm gives it is apparent that in so far as two things are similar, each can posses their similarity to a greater or lesser degree. In turn, two things seem to be more or less similar to each other. Peter Kreeft points out that “Anselm notes that ‘good’ can systematically vary its meaning depending on the words with which it is combined.” [King, p. 96]  Further, “Names like ‘present (in a place)’ acquire ‘different understandings’ when applied to God and when applied to creatures ‘due to the dissimilarity in the things.’” [King, p. 96]  For instance, that which has a beginning and an end (Abe) is less good than that which has a beginning but no end (Ab), and this is less good than that which has neither beginning nor end (A). Now Abe is similar to Ab in so far as both are good, but Abe is less good than Ab due to a specific difference (a term here used lossely). Aseems to be more similar to Ab than it is to Abe. Kreeft suggests that the relative dissimilarity of God accounts for his ‘ineffability.’

This means that, fourth, a generic similarity (loosely, again) contains within itself specific differences, or predicates pertaining to a similarity by which two similar things differ. Insofar as these specific differences belong to the genus of the generic similarity, they must pertain to that similarity, and affect the degree to which a thing possesses that similarity. Further, we form the idea of a thing more concretely by these specific differences. E.g., we can form the idea of A, without experiencing the reality of it, through the similarity “goodness” shared with Abe by denial of the specific differences b (having a beginning) and e (having an end).

However, it would seem to be nonsensical to form an idea of A from Abe by the denial of b and e if A and Abe were not similar. This is, of course, obvious from what has already been said. Its implications, though, are perhaps not yet clear. It means, for instance, that we cannot form a concept of “qwertyuiop” from ice cream by denying that “qwertyuiop’s” are sweet, as is ice cream, unless we conceive that the two are similar insofar as they are taste-able. If we cannot agree that the two are taste-able, then the claim that “qwertyuiop’s” are not sweet is nonsensical, precisely because sweetness is a specific difference of the generic similarity taste-ability. The discussion of the sweetness of an un-taste-able is nonsensical: an un-taste-able is neither sweet nor not sweet. The fact that we cannot apply the predicate “sweet” to an un-taste-able does not mean we can apply the predicate “not sweet” without making a blatant category mistake (perhaps better said here, a generic similarity mistake). This is confused by an equivocation in the use of the word negation. Our negations can be of two sorts: accidental or categorial. An accidental negation negates a specific difference within a generic similarity. For instance, a particular chair I am imagining is not yellow. Yet it is the sort of thing that could be yellow. In contrast, a categorial negation–so called because it sets up the predicate it negates in a category of its own, not belonging to the explicit hierarchy of predicates–negates a specific difference without a generic similarity. A particular chair I am imagining is not quick-witted. But neither is it the sort of thing that might be quick-witted. Any such categorial negation is, strictly speaking, nonsensical. That is, it would be nonsensical to deny that my chair is quick-witted, as much as it would be to claim that it is. Thus, fifth, the criterion for the sensicality of any negative ideo-homeosis (forming ideas by the denial of a predicate) is the predication of a generic similarity, or, put otherwise, any negative ideo-homeosis must make use of accidental, rather than categorial, negation.

It is now possible to make the further step from sensicality to meaningfulness. That is, sixth, any negative ideo-homeosis must have a certain positive content, or meaningfulness. Let me clarify. Initially this should be apparent because it is logically obvious that something that is not taste-able is not sweet. Therefore, the claim that something is un-taste-able is not sweet offers no logical content. More specifically, though, (as the careful reader may have already noticed) I mean that the denial of the predicate “sweet” must have a positive logical content. (To the extent that it carries a positive content we can consider “not sweet” as a sort of negative predicate.) E.g., the negative claim that a “qwertyuiop” is not sweet must contain a certain positive content, in virtue of the same predication in virtue of which the claim that a “qwertyuiop” is not sweet is sensical, namely that a “qwertyuiop” is taste-able. That is, a negation of a specific difference carries a positive content in virtue of the generic similarity. This is precisely because the negation of this particular mode of taste-ability, namely sweetness, shifts my imagination of a “qwertyuiop’s” mode of taste-ability into a different arrangement of its positive possibilities (which is what I have in mind when I say meaning), or accidents. Of course, these positive possibilities exist only in virtue of a “qwertyuiop’s” taste-ability, as they are the positive possibilities of its taste-ability.

However, while my denial that the chair is quick-witted may be nonsensical, it nevertheless seems to be true – and in this way also sensical. Further, this denial would seem to be meaningful, as it rearranges the full spectrum the chair’s positive possibilities. A quick investigation will reveal, though, that this categorial negation is only meaningful because it can be reduced to another accidental negation. The claim that the chair is not quick-witted structures the positive possibilities of the chair because, in a hierarchy of predications, quick-witted falls under some generic similarity which applies to chair, e.g. body. A body can be rational or non-rational. A rational body can be quick-witted or slow-witted. Here slow-witted takes the form of the accidental negation of quick-witted (as slow-witted is here the full range of the possibilities of a non-quick-witted rational body). However, for my chair we have in mind the categorial negation of quick-witted. As I said, though, the categorial negation can be reduced to an accidental negation. The categorial negation merely by-passes the intervening genus of rationality. For the categorial negation, quick-witted is a specific difference of the generic similarity body. It is really a crude accidental negation, and sensical in its own right. Again, this categorial negation takes quick-witted to be a possibility of body, among many possibilities. The denial of this possibility legitimately rearranges the positive possibilities of a body, and is meaningful. It is apparent, then, that any negation that seems to be categorial is in fact a crude accidental negation. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a categorial negation; every negation occurs within a generic similarity.

My distinction between accidental and categorial negation may now seem a laborious exercise. However, it has demonstrated that any negation must have positive content. This has two exceptions (both of which, however, amount to the same thing). First, the negation of all possible predicate. As it would leave no positive possibilities to the subject, by the sixth norm I have given, such a negation would be meaningless. (A reader might object that I have said the negation of a predicate can in itself be a sort of predicate. However, the only reason the negation bore the weight of a predicate was because it shifted the array of positive possibilities for the subject of which it denied. Here, there is no array, and so the denial carries no weight.) By the first norm, this subject would bear no similarities to any other subject, and by the second it would be in no way conceivable. Second, the denial of the most generic similarity, i.e., being. (For the purposes of this paper, it is simply assumed that being is the most generic similarity.) Since there is no generic similarity of which being is a specific difference, by my fifth norm, the denial of being of a subject is nonsensical. Interestingly, about such a subject, and only such a subject, it would be possible to make categorial negations, since any negation about a subject about which being is denied would necessarily lack any generic similarity. This is clearly related to the claim that we are only unable to form conceptions of impossibles. Since a subject of which being is denied is presumably impossible, we would seem to be unable to form the idea of such a subject. The words “a subject of which being is denied” is a mere verbal formula signifying nothing.

As a last note, one eminently relevant to my discussion of Anselm, these two exceptions give clear proscriptions to negative ontology and negative theology. Negative approaches to conceptualizing the absolute cannot deny any possible predicate of it, which equally means being cannot be denied of it. On this point Anselm quotes Romans 1:20: “The invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen through the things that have been made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” [Anslem, p. 120] Any attempt to describe the absolute as “beyond predicates” or “beyond being” supersedes the realm of possible conceptualization.

Works Cited

Anselm. “Proslogion.” In The Major Works, ed. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans, 82-104. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

King, Peter. “Anselm’s Philosophy of Language.” In The Cambridge Companion to Anselm, ed. Brian Davies and Brian Leftow, 84-110. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Visser, Sandra and Thomas Williams. Anselm. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

The Positivist Attack on Locke’s Liberalism

Luis J. Romo Jr.

Liberalism is a political ideology that puts individual rights at the highest priority. The British Empiricists are usually credited with the creation of this doctrine. This doctrine dominated political thinking in many parts of the western world during the 18th century. John Hallowell argues in his article The Decline of Liberalism that one of the reasons liberalism died away as a dominant ideology is because positivism infiltrated the thinking of many in society. Positivism is the idea that the senses and the scientific method are the only way to discover truth in the world. Positivism had a problem with liberalism because of the idea of rights. Rights cannot, according to Positivism, be proved empirically. Therefore, to a Positivist, Liberalism has no basis as an ideology.

This is interesting because, as the name implies, the British Empiricists were empiricists and, if what the positivists say is true, this means that they created a political philosophy that was undermined by empiricism. John Locke, one of the most famous names in liberalism was an empiricist and he believed in rights. He believed that they can be justified. The question is how? To do this, positivism will be examined first as an Epistemological standpoint. Second the effects of such an epistemological standpoint will be examined, especially in Philosophy of Law. Finally there will be an examination of whether or not John Locke’s Epistemology and his Political/Law Philosophy is consistent.

The reason I chose Locke is because he is the most relevant to Americans. He seems to be the one out of all the British Empiricists that heavily influenced our nation at its founding. His words are echoed in our Declaration of Independence, albeit with some creative licensing by Jefferson. John Locke said “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions,” (Locke) while the Declaration of Independence said “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,”  and that “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (Jefferson) If we based our system of the protection of rights such as life and liberty on Locke’s philosophy then it would be important to determine whether or not such philosophy can withstand attacks from other philosophers. Now the positivists do not attack rights directly. They attack the idea of metaphysics, and many people see rights as a metaphysical principle in which the idea of rights begins to be questioned. Since Locke is an empiricists maybe he would avoid the positivist attack altogether.

Let’s begin with Positivism and its attack on metaphysics. According Hallowell, positivism denies the existence of metaphysics. The only facts that are relevant are those things that can be experienced by ordinary sense perceptions. Everything else, such as value judgments, is subjective (Hallowell, 1942). The only things that are experienced and measured scientifically can be part of our knowledge. Objective ideas and values are not. In essence, the only good analysis is quantitative and not qualitative. So because a positivist cannot qualitative judgments, he believes that he has shown that qualitative judgment is unfounded.

Based on these principles, why do positivists deny the existence of metaphysics? Positivist Rudolf Carnap gave us a systematic way of eliminating metaphysics by understanding the way we use language in his essay titled, The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language. He gives his readers a criterion for how a word or a sentence will have meaning. First the syntax must be fixed in the most simple sentence possible, an “elementary sentence” (Carnap, 1959). Then that “elementary sentence” must give us the conditions for verification (Carnap, 1959). For example, an elementary sentence for the word, “stone” would look like this: “x is a stone.” With x being the empirical criteria for what a stone is. So what we would have to do is put a description of a stone in the place of x.  We could also make the statement, “Compacted earth material into a hard three dimensional shape of indeterminate size is a stone.” We can also give conditions in which the statement of “it is a stone” is true or not. If it is transparent, then the phrase “it is a stone” is determined to be false. If we say that “it is opaque” then the sentence “it is a stone” is said to be true. This way we can then create a standard to judge if the next objects that we see are, in fact, “stones.”

We can then apply that to the idea of rights. It seems difficult to put the word into the schema of “x is a right.” How would we define x? We cannot since x is supposed to be empirical criteria for defining what the word means. Rights are not something we can observe or experience.  We cannot say something like “if it is red, then it is a right.” We also cannot be given an empirical criteria for when something is and something is not qualified to be a right. Statements such as, “if it is below 30 degrees Celsius, then it is not a right,” does not make sense based on these principles.

What about the idea of Rights by virtue of our humanity? Here it seems as though the metaphysician is attempting to establish a relationship between two things: Human Beings and Human Rights. However, this is not a causal or temporal relationship (Carnap, 1959). To Carnap those are the only kinds of relations because those are the ones that we can observe and understand. Because the relationship that the metaphysicians is trying to describe does not fit into the other two categories that were explained above, Carnap argues that it is instead a mere assertion, not a logical, argumentative defense. Here we see how a positivist places a very strong emphasis on empirical relationships, which brings us to Carnap’s next point of “Metaphysical Knowledge”.

Carnap gives us a reason why we should be wary of “metaphysical knowledge” and why we should believe empirical knowledge instead. According to him, anything that is unintelligible to us now will never be intelligible (Carnap, 1959). It seems as though when a metaphysician talks about things such as rights, the good, or souls, he talks about something that humanity will never understand. The problem is that we should not use something we cannot understand as the basis of human action. Carnap says that if it lies beyond possible experience we can neither ask nor think about it, (Carnap, 1959) Therefore, if it is not something we can think about, then the only other source for these ideas is emotion. Because of this, Carnap argues that metaphysics refers to images and feelings associated with words.  Those feelings, however do not give meaning to words (Carnap, 1959).

We must rely on Empirical knowledge, according to Carnap, because that is all we can ever hope to fully understand. Making statements that cannot be verifiable by any finite Being would then be nonsense. They would be meaningless to us. Carnap makes the point that if something is not intelligible to us now it will never be intelligible to us (Carnap, 1959). However, it seems that many our courses of action are based on metaphysical assumptions. Science seems to come out of an attempt to establish the truth of the natural world. Truth however is a metaphysical concept.  We create art in order to find out what is beautiful, another metaphysical concept. Another place where metaphysical assumptions really come into play is in the realm of society. We can create a system of government that promotes rights or one that promotes justice, both of which are metaphysical ideas. So what could happen if we cannot take a metaphysical assumption seriously? Would an ideology about a system of government that was based on a metaphysical assumption lose its relevance? To Hallowell, this is exactly what happened.

Because metaphysical ideas are not taken seriously, the idea of rights begins to come under scrutiny. The idea of souls, the basis for all moral worth and value, according to Hallowell, was also not safe from the positivist attack because they cannot be empirically proven or tested. And with that Individual worth and value is undermined. Since Liberalism makes it a point to make sure that government’s primary, if not only, function is the security of these rights, Liberalism is seen as a baseless ideology. With positivism denying the existence of Rights, Liberalism has lost its foundation, according to Hallowell, and will start to lose ground as a guiding ideology.

A place where it starts to lose ground would be in the area of law. The positivist no longer sees rights as something belonging to the individual because of his humanity but as a mere concession by the government (Hallowell, 1942). Since rights are seen as something that law gives to people, the idea that those rights can be taken away becomes a very real posibility. Without rights nothing is limiting law and law can be whatever the government decides it to be. In other words, “law becomes synonymous with command.” (Hallowell, 1942). The idea of the Liberal state limited by justice and rights becomes a state limited by formal procedures.

Here Hallowell is talking about John Austin and his command theory. John Austin has something that he calls “positive law.” Positive law is a command backed by a threat that is set by political superiors to political inferiors (Austin, 2007). When law is looked at like this then we see that the idea of rights do not fit into this description. Laws are commands and laws that describe rights cannot be laws because the person in charge is not asking the inferiors to do anything.

Now we could conceivable create laws that grant rights (Austin, 2007). The problem here is the idea of the government granting rights. Rights, for John Locke, are supposed to exist before government because that is what the law of nature dictates. So if government can create rights with a law, then rights did not exist before the government but exist because of the government and it can most definitely repeal these rights just as easily as it can repeal laws.  While John Austin does believe in the importance of those rights, he would not agree with John Locke on where the rights come from since Locke believes that they come from the law of nature and that that is not the proper place for law.

The reason John Austin says all of this is because he is describing just what law does. When doing that he discovers that Positive law (law written by people) is not always going to be the same as natural law or Morality (Austin, 2007), assuming those exist at all. (Austin does discuss Divine Law, but says it is not the proper topic of jurisprudence). Some people will of course argue that all law has its roots in natural law or morality. John Austin say, though, that natural law and Divine law are not supposed to be part of jurisprudence only positive law is what jurisprudence should be concerned with (Austin, 2007). As John Austin says, “The existence of law is one thing; its merit or demerit is another. Whether it be or be not is one enquiry; whether it be or be not conformable to an assumed standard, is a different enquiry. A law, which actually exists, is a law, though we happen to dislike it, or though it vary from the text, by which we regulate our approbation and disapprobation.” So what we have is people following and enforcing laws, not because they are right, but because they are law.

A person may not agree with the duties that the sovereign imposes on him but must fulfill them anyway. To Hallowell this is how governments like Fascism came to dominance in the early 1900’s. While governments in countries like Germany and Italy created more powerful central governments and committed civil rights violations, the courts could do nothing to stop them. If a law was passed through the proper legal channels then it was a law and the commands and duties that it entailed must be followed through.  Rights merely became formalities. Because of this rights could be taken away from certain citizens at any moment if it followed a legal procedure. At this point rights were not based on a soul or metaphysical idea that people were endowed with such rights because of their humanity but on the idea that the government gave the rights to the people. They are merely concessions.

Something that is very important to point out, though, is Hallowell’s theory of the formulation of the ideology of liberalism. Hallowell argues that liberalism came about during a historical crossroads. The influence of the Christianity of the Middle Ages was waning and the influence of the Renaissance with its influence on rational thought and science was increasing. He argues that individuals were seen as “equal entities, equal in moral worth and dignity by the virtue of God-given souls,…” possessing  “divine reason.” (Hallowell, 1942) Given these premises, the idea or rights came about. People were seen as equal and morally valuable and anything that violated that idea was a gross transgression of a religious doctrine (Hallowell, 1942). Meanwhile people were seen as the irreducible building blocks of society to social scientists just like atoms were seen as the basic irreducible building blocks of matter to physicists and Chemists. This gave us the idea that we cannot have society without individuals. So naturally the idea of governments making sure that rights were protected came about, giving us Liberalism.

Locke, being an empiricist, must have a theory of rights that relies on empirical proof. Seeing as how John Locke was a social contract theorist, maybe his empirical proof for rights would be in the state of nature as a positive account of man’s freedom.  Unfortunately, his argument on the state of nature is abstract and not necessarily an observation (Dienstag, 1996).  Locke turns out to be more normative than would be expected form an Empiricist. He writes to achieve a particular result, not to describe or explain. Locke’s situation seems to support Hallowell’s thesis about Liberalism being a product of the historical crossroads of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. He tries to keep a system of natural law that is similar to Aquinas but keeps the revelation aspect out of it and substitutes revelation with reason, going as far as arguing that morality and theology can be understood through pure reason. This line of argument, his critics argue, leaves many holes in his line of reasoning.

John Locke’s political philosophy is very normative, meaning that is he is describing something that should be and not something that is.  With the Second Treatise he wants to “bring about a particular future” (Dienstag, 1996)He wants to rid the government of the royal rule so he creates the Second Treatise so he can describe a government without the rule of the monarch. He is not describing some positive ideal. He is describing an ideal that he wants to see.

This is what his discourse in the state of nature would appear to be; an explanation of man in its natural state in which he is truly fee and all of his rights would be evident. But writers like Diesnstag say that it’s not “a physical incarnation of political ideals.” What Locke instead does is that he creates an alternative history. He makes it so that if the reader would understand that “the populace is not made up of royal subjects by nature but descendants who once stood in the state of nature.” (Dienstag, 1996) Then, the people would have created a government through the social contract. In the social contract the government would be established to protect the rights to life, liberty and property. If the government did not follow the social contract then it is the right of the people to revolt. By having the reader accept this idea of history rather than the one that they would have been force to believe at the time, the reader would begin to question why the king is in power if he is not following the social contract. Then, following Locke’s instructions, the reader would then rebel against the royalty. This is how Locke would have created the alternate future that he wanted. Basically there was less of a concern with the question of compatibility of theorems than in the purpose of justifying a competitive diffusion of political authority.” (Seliger, 1963)

This seems to be inconsistent with the idea of an empiricist. An empiricist, relying only on sensory experiences and observations would not create abstract arguments to convince people. This leads to the conclusion that Locke’s Political Philosophy is incompatible with his Epistemology. Therefore, John Locke’s theory of rights is not based on empirical evidence but is instead an attempt to create a society that he sees as the ideal, regardless of what his epistemology is.

What’s happening here appears to be something that Hallowell argued. As stated above, Hallowell said that the Liberalism is a product of the declining Christian influence of the middle ages and an increasing influence of the reliance on pure reason of the Renaissance. This becomes evident when he tries to describe his morality and duty of the individual to society which will sometimes go against the needs of the individual. (Forde, 2001). However Locke argues that such moral law is not based on revelation (Ellis, Fischer, & Sauer, 2006). So it’s a theology that can be understood with unassisted reason. At this point Locke seems to try to keeps the many of the morals that come about because of religion, mainly Christianity, while claiming that only reason and science are necessary to discover these.

Author Steven Forde suggests that for Locke in his Essays on Human Understanding created a morality is based on a system of rewards and punishments that can only be prescribed by a divine authority. (Forde, 2001) To Locke the ideas of “true moral good and evil require divine legislation and enforcement” (Forde, 2001) This means that here he is not focusing on the state of nature for people to discover such truths. Forde argues that because Locke has a “hedonistic moral psychology” a divine power is needed so that people can achieve happiness even though what society needs of them is not what their individual needs are.

Just like his morality required an enforcing power to be binding, Locke required an enforcing power for laws to be binding. And in the case of natural Law for Locke it was God, making Locke’s natural law a divine law. (Forde, 2001)

All of his allusions to a higher power suggest that he is still being influenced by religion. In his Second Treatise,  Locke argues that “men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent an infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by his order and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure” (Locke)  While Hallowell never pointed an example of a philosopher who created a framework for Liberalism who was influenced by religion, the above quote shows that whenever he was unable to solve problems with natural law, such as explaining where our rights come from under an empiricist epistemology certain moral or natural law problem he would sometimes turn to theology to get around his problems. Other times, though, he would just assure the reader that his theses are plausible but never backs them up himself. The combination of inconsistencies in his philosophy (relying purely on reason at times and other times on theology) leads us to our next point.

Locke’s reliance Theology and his rejection of Theology leaves many gaps in his writing. This is something which many writers have pointed out. The comments that writers have left have ranged from saying that it was a contradiction, to unplugged holes, to being blank, unfounded assertions to suggesting that an explanation was not seen by Locke as being necessary. The latter being the most reasonable even though the other arguments have their merits.

Writers like Sauer, Fischer and Ellis argue that Locke’s position of moral law being founded on theology is contradictory since it leaves people who are not Christian out and Locke’s doctrines of moral law will sometimes contradict Christian teachings. (Ellis, Fischer, & Sauer, 2006) But this is different than what other writers, like Forde, argue which is not necessarily a Christian theology but what Locke would consider the “correct theology,” since Locke has said that many societies had been born and died without ever knowing the correct natural law (Forde, 2001). Forde takes this to mean that when societies don’t know the correct natural law, they have not learned the correct theology (Forde, 2001).

While Sauer, Fischer and Ellis may think that the contradiction comes because Locke’s teachings contradict the Christians ones a more reasonable argument would be one that the actual contradiction is in the fact that he both accepts and rejects theology, and he tries to keep natural law in a similar style to previous natural law teachings. Believing that a theology can be based only on reason is an impossible suggestion since theology relies on revelation. Many important figures in Natural law, such as Aquinas, have also relied on revelation for their theories on natural law. Locke is a bit more nebulous on natural law though. Sometimes he will swing between saying that natural law is something that obvious to the rational being who is, because he is a rational being, under natural law (Seliger, 1963) to sometimes being “hidden and unperceived” (Forde, 2001)

Something else that writers have said is that there are a lot of gaps in Locke’s writing. These gaps are found when he talks about the foundations of moral and natural law and he never bothered to fill them (Forde, 2001) Being an empiricist Locke asserts that there is a form of “demonstrative morality” that is to be discovered in a similar method to mathematics. Unfortunately this idea does not go beyond being a mere assertion (Forde, 2001).  This lack of explanation was one of the reasons why Jeremy Bentham wrote that the idea of rights was just “nonsense upon stilts.” (Bentham, 1943) Forde says that it may be that Locke did not think that it was possible to come up with the basis of natural law and that is why he never even bothered to. (Forde, 2001) Forde however, doesn’t seem to want to make this point since it would render all of Locke’s teachings useless. There could be another explanation: that Locke just did not think that it would be necessary to convince people that there is such thing as natural law at the time.

This idea goes off of the point that Hallowell made that Liberalism was a product of its time. During that time people would not seem to disagree with such a notion. The aspects of natural Law would have been accepted because of the influence of Christianity and the writings of Aquinas. Meanwhile the increasing trust in unassisted reason would lead people to accept the idea that such things as natural law can be understood through reason. While there were critics who did disagree with that notion they came about later and not at the time that Locke was writing in. Seliger reminds us that Locke said that “it was besides my present purpose to enter into the particulars of the law of nature.” (Seliger, 1963) And it might have been. Why try to convince people of an idea that was probably accepted at the time anyway. He was more preoccupied with making his political vision come true.

Hallowell argues that the positivist attack on metaphysics led to the undermining of the idea of rights and cause people to question the idea of Liberalism. Positivists attacked metaphysics by saying that such statements are meaningless because they do not deal with what we can experience. Experience being the only thing we can actually understand. When this spilled over into law we got thinkers arguing that all that law really is just commands. Rights could only be legal concessions made by the government but they could also be taken away by the government. In essence, rights became formalities of the system. Being an empiricist it seemed as though Locke’s political philosophy would be safe from the attack by the positivists since they put a great emphasis on empiricist but unfortunately that was not the case. John Locke is empiricist but argues that things like natural law and self-evident truths could actually be understood through reason alone. It would be good if he gave us a framework for how to actually understand these concepts but he did not. Because he didn’t explain how someone is to understand natural law and instead just asserts it we can allow for the conclusion that Locke made the assumption that it was possible to understand natural law and not necessary to explain it at the time. These are the implicit assumptions that Hallowell talked about. (Hallowell, 1942) He just assumed that Natural Law and Moral Law could be understood through reason alone.  This study of Locke’s empiricist and Liberalism supports Hallowell’s claims that liberalism is both a product of its time and is susceptible to the attacks made by the positivists.

Works Cited

Austin, J. (2007). The Providence of Jurisprudence Determined. In S. Dimock, Classic Readings in the Philosophy of Law (pp. 20-35). New York: Pearson Education.

Bentham, J. (1943). Anarchical Fallacies Vol. 2.

Carnap, R. (1959). The Elimination of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language. In A. A. J., Logical Positivism (pp. 60-81). Glencoe: The Free Press.

Dienstag, J. F. (1996). Between History and Nature: Social Contract Theory in Locke and the Founders. The Journal of Politics , 985-1009.

Ellis, R. D., Fischer, N., & Sauer, J. B. (2006). Chapter Five Hobbesian Difficulties and Locke’s Rights-based Approach. In R. D. Elllis, N. Fischer, & J. B. Sauer, Foundations of Civic engagement (pp. 95-116). Lanham: University press of America.

Forde, S. (2001). Natural Law, Theology, and Morality in Locke. American Jornal of Political Science , 396-409.

Hallowell, J. H. (1942). The Decline of Liberalism. Ethics , 52 (3), 323-349.

Jefferson, Thomas. “Declaration of independence – transcript.” 4th July 1776. Charters of Freedom. 23 May 2011 <;.

Locke, John. Concerning Civil Government, Second Essay. Raleigh: Alex Catalogue, n.d.

Seliger, M. (1963). Locke’s Natural Law and the Foundation of Politics. Journal of the History of Ideas , 337-354.

Censorship of Same-sex Marriage

Rose M. Griffith

Censorship of same-sex marriage should not be allowed in the United States.  I will first explain the issue and define relevant terms.  I will then talk about three applicable moral principles that support my claim and respond to objections to my position.

Same-sex marriage is the marriage of two homosexual people.  A homosexual is a person who prefers his or her own sex to the opposite sex in a relationship.  Censorship is the condemning or disallowing of an action, idea, or material that goes against social, religious, or political norms.  By law, a state must prove that an action, idea, or material causes harm before it can proceed with the censoring process.  People who believe only in the conventional view of marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation, are against same-sex marriage. However, the more liberal view is that same-sex marriage should be allowed.  Three basic philosophical principals are relevant to this discussion.

Homosexuals are obviously human beings with the ability to reason.  According to Kant, the ability to reason gives human beings intrinsic value  (Vaughn 103).  The Harm Principle says, “we have a direct prima facie duty not to harm beings who have intrinsic value” (Warren 583).  Thus, this principle asserts that human beings have the right not to be harmed.   Also applicable is the Impartiality Principle, which says that similar things should be treated similarly unless there is a good reason not to.  Homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, are members of the human race.   Although they have a different sexual orientation, homosexuals have equivalent human functions, needs, and desires. Therefore, they should not be treated differently from other human beings.  Thirdly, the Principle of Autonomy gives human beings who are “moral agents” the right to make “free, rational, moral choices” (Vaughn 502).  Homosexuals are moral agents just as heterosexuals are and therefore have the right to make choices for their own lives without the interference of censorship.

A just society would not censor same-sex marriage because there is no evidence that it causes harm. Conventionalists think that homosexual marriage causes harm in that it does not allow procreation.  They also feel that homosexual marriage is a threat to normal family structure because it does not contain the traditional husband, wife and child relationship of a heterosexual marriage. People with the liberal view do not believe that procreation is the only purpose of marriage.   They feel that creating stable relationships and providing caregivers are also important purposes and that both homosexual and heterosexual married couples can provide these roles.  Even though same-sex couples do not procreate they can provide a caring, supportive home for children in need of adoption.  They can also provide caregivers for their elderly parents and for each other.

Even though conservatives fight against changing the traditional family, it has already changed. Families do not live in one town anymore, many parents raise children by themselves, the divorce rate is high and interracial marriage is common. Arguments that were valid in a different era need to be reexamined in the context of a changing environment.  In fact, the imperative to procreate is no longer completely valid and having some married couples that cannot procreate may actually benefit our society.  As natural resources dwindle, population growth at current levels cannot be sustained.  There is no need to have every couple bring more children into the world.  Although there appears to be no evidence that allowing same-sex marriage causes harm, there does appear to be good evidence that censoring same-sex marriage causes harm.   Homosexuals that are not allowed the emotional and legal benefits of formal commitment may suffer for it.  There is a cost in “human happiness that must be spent” if traditional views are to be followed (Wilson 148).

Censorship of same-sex marriage is discrimination against homosexuals and a violation of their autonomous rights.  Conventionalists think that this discrimination and violation of autonomous rights is appropriate because same-sex marriage and the homosexuality it condones are unnatural and abnormal. They feel that because these behaviors are not seen in nature they should not be allowed in human society.  However, students of animal behavior have documented clear evidence of homosexual behaviors and attachments in many species of animal, including fish, birds, lower mammals and higher mammals (Ruse 189). There is clear evidence that this sort of behavior is normal in nature and therefore should be considered normal in humans.  Discriminating against homosexuals violates the impartiality principle and not allowing same-sex couples to marry goes against the autonomous rights of persons.  There is no reason to deny homosexuals a basic right that has been given to heterosexuals since the institution of marriage began. Segregating a group of people based on sexual orientation is just as degrading and wrong as segregating people based on race or gender.

As time has passed, America and the views of American people have changed, and the country’s evolving laws reflect that. We should make a change now to allow same-sex couples to marry.   Conventionalists feel that because the tradition of heterosexual marriage has been in place for so long it should be preserved as the only acceptable form of marriage.  They believe that even if the censorship of same-sex marriage seems “arbitrary and unjust”, it is justified because heterosexual marriage “evolved and endured in human societies, [and it embodies a] collective wisdom that must be preserved” (Vaughn 409).  The fear is that the entire system of marriage may fail if society tampers with the basic workings of the institution (Vaughn 409).  The counterargument is that just because particular belief systems or traditions have been in place for many years, they are not inherently right or worth preserving.  As the country has changed, it has abandoned many long-held traditions that no longer reflect the people’s current beliefs.  If laws had not changed in response, America would still be a nation of slavery and women would not have the right to vote.  A tradition that causes harm to, discriminates against or violates the rights of a group of people needs to be changed. Not all traditions are sacred.

A just society would tolerate same-sex marriage because there is no evidence that it causes harm. Censorship of same-sex marriage is discrimination against homosexuals and it is a violation of their autonomous rights. The institution of marriage needs to be changed to allow for changing values in our society. Censorship of same-sex marriage is not supported by basic principles of ethics and should not be allowed in the United States.

Work Cited

Vaughn, Lewis. Doing Ethics. 2nd ed.  New York. W.W. Norton and Company. 2010.




~ by texasphilosophical on June 6, 2011.

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