The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Watch where you point that thing!

This post was inspired by a brilliant comparison Sarah made. I've embellished it a bit, but the central insight is hers. As usual, I can't tell where her part leaves off and mine begins.

I'm a hunter. My granddad was a famous hunting guide and my dad runs a hunting club. So I've grown up around guns. One practice I learned early on was that you never point a gun in the direction of a human being (who is not attacking an innocent person): you "treat every gun as if it were loaded". I am now unable not to abide by this. I'm actually unfree to point a known loaded gun at someone, it's so contrary to my nature that I can't make myself do it. This is so because of the good training I had on the topic (Aristotle would be proud, the chief aim of early child-rearing is to *train* children to have the right *habits* so that later in life they don't have to struggle to form them).

But another reason I can't point a gun at someone even if I know it's unloaded is that even though I know it's unloaded because I just checked it, there is always that tiny chance that somehow a bullet got stuck in there which I didn't see. That chance is very tiny indeed. However, the consequences of shooting an innocent person are bigger than I can calculate. So multiply that tiny chance by those huge consequences and you still get a huge reason not to point the gun in their direction.

HOW MUCH MORE then should we so act with a gun we know is loaded but we know has the safety on. Safety's work by physically blocking the trigger from pulling back far enough to release the firing pin into the primer of the cartridge. It's very unlikely that one would fail, but it is not unheard of and I have thought one was on when it wasn't and I have accidentally pressed the safety off. It is rare, but it is a reality.

Now about sex. A condom is a safety on a loaded gun. However, the chance of failure is greater and so are the consequences. Killing someone isn't *nearly* as momentous as *creating* someone. No life is ever truly ended and earthly life is of strictly finite value anyway. But when you create a life, that is an act of infinity. That soul never ends, ever. And the human life of that person might be really messed up as a result of thinking of themselves as an "accident" which caused the misery of their parents who now had to get married. This is a common tale.

The act of sexual intercourse is intimately connected--if you will--with procreation. That's Bio 101. No act seeks such union with another. It carries with it an implicit commitment commensurate with that. And since the fruit of successful procreation is nothing less than a human life, sexual intercourse carries with it, inherently--whether the parties are thinking about it or not--the promise of a lifetime commitment. Thus sexual intercourse not backed up by such a willingness is a sort of lie. It says something untrue.

So, to make the analogy explicit: to have sexual intercourse with someone to whom you have not made a lifetime commitment is like pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger in the *hope* that it is unloaded or that the safety will work. It is not nice and it is not safe.


At Saturday, February 16, 2008 1:59:00 PM, Blogger Christine Ansorge said...

Go Sarah!

At Tuesday, March 04, 2008 9:58:00 AM, Blogger Alexander R Pruss said...

The analogy is really good, and one could push it in different directions. For instance, one reason one doesn't point even an unloaded gun at someone is because of the symbolism and emotional reaction.

Another reason is that a habit of not pointing a gun at someone, except in defense of the innocent, is a much better habit to have than a habit of not pointing guns at people unless either one is 99.999999% sure that the gun is unloaded or one is doing so in defense of the innocent. For one, a habit of pointing guns at people when one is 99.999999% sure they're unloaded or one is doing so in defense of the innocent is less likely to be accurately followed than a habit of not pointing guns at people except in defense of the innocent. For another, it is a mistake to neglect small chances, as Parfit says. For a third, there is the consideration that the 99.999999% policy, if followed by everybody in the world, would still from time to time result in an accidental shooting. In the case of contraception, where the probabilities of pregnancy are still moderately high (about 3% per annum for perfectly used condoms, about 13% per annum for typically used condoms) this is particularly clear.

On the other hand, there is a difficulty with arguments like the one you give: a child who is conceived inappropriately is still a being of great worth, is still better off for existing than for not existing. The life of the human person might be "messed up", but it is still a life eminently worth living, and this particular human person either either could not (on some essentiality of origins views) or at least would very likely not exist (given the randomness or pseudorandomness in the reproductive process) apart from that particular sexual act.

In my version of this argument, I try to get around this problem by bringing in the idea of not acting in ways that are likely to result in one's neglecting parental responsibilities.


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