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Is Homosexuality unnatural?There was much debate in our Philosophy class.

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Is Homosexuality unnatural? There was much debate in our Philosophy class.

I can't think of any good definition of "(un)natural" according to which it would be correct to say that homosexuality is unnatural. We should first recognize that defining "homosexuality" is itself a difficult task. I'll begin by distinguishing between being a homosexual person and homosexual acts, where the latter involves sexual activity between members of the same biological sex. An overly simplistic way of defining a homosexual person would be someone who identifies him or herself as wanting (when wanting to engage in sexual activity) primarily to engage in homosexual acts, but this definition neglects other important ways homosexuals think of themselves (e.g., as loving or wanting to marry someone of the same sex).

Now, how could it be that homosexual acts or homosexual persons are unnatural?



1. Perhaps one thinks that *hetero*sexual acts (and persons) are natural and any other type of sexual activity is (thereby?) unnatural. But this view just begs the question of what counts as natural (see below). And why can only one type of activity be natural? Breathing with lungs is natural, in some sense, but that doesn't mean breathing with gills is unnatural.

2. Perhaps one thinks that heterosexual acts are natural because they are "normal" in the sense that they are statistically more common among humans (as well as other animals), and homosexual acts are not as common. But lots of uncommon things are both part of nature (one way of thinking of "natural") and are considered good ("natural" misused to mean "normatively good"). Left-handed people, and the tallest 10% of giraffes, are uncommon, yet very much a part of nature. And the best violinists (and perhaps the fastest cheetahs) are uncommon yet are properly considered good (at what they do). Indeed, self-sacrificial heroes are rare, but they are part of nature and morally good. Regarding rarity, homosexual acts are relatively rare in non-human animals but they do occur in several species so they are "part of nature" in that sense, and even if humans were the only species to engage in homosexual acts, that wouldn't make them unnatural, unless complex language, cooking, and playing soccer are unnatural because only humans engage in those activities.

3. Perhaps one thinks that homosexual acts and persons are unnatural because they could not be selected for in the process of natural selection. But first of all, they could be, and perhaps were (e.g., one possibility is that homosexual persons or animals conferred greater fitness to their kin or their groups). And second, who cares? Lots of things are natural that were not selected for, including for instance, our ability to do calculus or dance the tango. And lest one think that whatever traits humans have that were selected for are traits we should think of as good (or part of our "purpose"), keep in mind that our traits of promiscuity and aggression towards out-groups (a likely source of racism) were likely selected for.

4. Alas, I suspect that most people who think and say that homosexuality is unnatural typically just want to use "unnatural" to mean "wrong"--or not what (they think) God wants or some equally improper (unnatural!) meaning of the word. And they typically think that for unjustifiable reasons. I've yet to see a compelling argument that homosexual acts, much less homosexual persons, are wrong, much less unnatural.

I can't think of any good definition of "(un)natural" according to which it would be correct to say that homosexuality is unnatural. We should first recognize that defining "homosexuality" is itself a difficult task. I'll begin by distinguishing between being a homosexual person and homosexual acts, where the latter involves sexual activity between members of the same biological sex. An overly simplistic way of defining a homosexual person would be someone who identifies him or herself as wanting (when wanting to engage in sexual activity) primarily to engage in homosexual acts, but this definition neglects other important ways homosexuals think of themselves (e.g., as loving or wanting to marry someone of the same sex). Now, how could it be that homosexual acts or homosexual persons are unnatural? 1. Perhaps one thinks that *hetero*sexual acts (and persons) are natural and any other type of sexual activity is (thereby?) unnatural. But this view just begs the question of what counts as...

Nazism is an anti-Semitic and therefore immoral ideology. Public officials and

Nazism is an anti-Semitic and therefore immoral ideology. Public officials and institutions in Nazi-era Germany which did not speak out against Nazism therefore can be seen as having had a moral failing. Christianity is a homophobic and therefore immoral religion. Public officials and institutions of today which don't speak out against Christianity therefore have a moral failing. Is there anything wrong with this logic?

I think the logic is fine, but I'm not sure about the content of the argument. The argument structure is:

1. X is an institution with an essential goal that is clearly immoral.

2. It is wrong for individuals and institutions not to do what they can to prevent an institution from achieving immoral goals.

3. So, it is wrong for individuals and institutions not to do what they can to prevent X from achieving its immoral goals.

If we fill in Nazism for X and wiping out Jews for their essential immoral goal, the valid argument also looks sound (i.e., the premises and therefore the conclusion are true). But if we fill in Christianity for X, that argument is less clearly sound, mainly because Christianity is a much more diverse institution than Nazism with more varied essential goals. Some Christians take their religion to require fighting against homophobic practices, just as some fought against slavery and racism, while other Christians take it as an essential implication of their religion that homosexuality is wrong, just as some fought to protect slavery and segregation.

If we focus on the latter, fundamentalist Christians, then I think the argument is sound. Public officials and institutions, as well as individuals, should speak out against the homophobia of fundamentalist Christians (and Jews and Muslims and others). All of this is based on the premise, which I believe is true, that homophobic practices (such as discrimination against gays in employment, marriage, adoptions, etc.) are immoral.

However, there is one other problem with your argument by analogy. Very very few Christians suggest that homosexuals should be treated the way Nazis treated Jews (and the way Nazis treated homosexuals!). There is a big difference between saying homosexuals cannot marry and saying homosexuals should be rounded up and systematically slaughtered. This difference suggests different reactions--e.g., violent war against Nazis vs. non-violent protests and public confrontation against homophobes. Nonetheless, as we have seen recently, homophobia can have deadly consequences, and it needs to be banished from our society along with other forms of discrimination.

I think the logic is fine, but I'm not sure about the content of the argument. The argument structure is: 1. X is an institution with an essential goal that is clearly immoral. 2. It is wrong for individuals and institutions not to do what they can to prevent an institution from achieving immoral goals. 3. So, it is wrong for individuals and institutions not to do what they can to prevent X from achieving its immoral goals. If we fill in Nazism for X and wiping out Jews for their essential immoral goal, the valid argument also looks sound (i.e., the premises and therefore the conclusion are true). But if we fill in Christianity for X, that argument is less clearly sound, mainly because Christianity is a much more diverse institution than Nazism with more varied essential goals. Some Christians take their religion to require fighting against homophobic practices, just as some fought against slavery and racism, while other Christians take it as an essential implication...

If we consider the norm to be defined as what the majority of people do, can

If we consider the norm to be defined as what the majority of people do, can homosexuality be considered normal since it defines behavior that is clearly not what most people indulge in? And would that make homosexuality abnormal? And if it were abnormal, would it be wrong to validate gay marriage?

The statistical norm might be defined by what is true of the majority. But why on earth would we want to define the moral norm solely in terms of what the majority of people do? That would mean that, by definition, vegetarianism, atheism, and marriage between different races was wrong. It would mean that you were morally wrong if you were an abolitionist in the South or fought for equality for women in America in the early 20th century (I'm not sure when that became the majority position) or fight for equality for women in many countries today. For that matter, it would make it wrong to be a Jew or a man who goes to college or a firefighter.

Perhaps what you mean is that homosexuality could be considered biologically "non-normal" (it's not clear exactly what that might mean, since whatever we do is allowed by our biology). That may not be true, depending on what one means by biologically normal. But even if it were, it would not make it morally wrong, since lots of biologically "non-normal" behaviors may be moral, including, for instance, monogamy and vegetarianism.

The statistical norm might be defined by what is true of the majority. But why on earth would we want to define the moral norm solely in terms of what the majority of people do? That would mean that, by definition, vegetarianism, atheism, and marriage between different races was wrong. It would mean that you were morally wrong if you were an abolitionist in the South or fought for equality for women in America in the early 20th century (I'm not sure when that became the majority position) or fight for equality for women in many countries today. For that matter, it would make it wrong to be a Jew or a man who goes to college or a firefighter. Perhaps what you mean is that homosexuality could be considered biologically "non-normal" (it's not clear exactly what that might mean, since whatever we do is allowed by our biology). That may not be true, depending on what one means by biologically normal. But even if it were, it would not make it morally wrong, since lots of biologically "non...

Is sadism immoral?

Is sadism immoral?

Yes, especially if it involves the actual infliction of pain on someone else, not just getting pleasure from watching real or fake depictions of people in pain. On every theory of morality, gratuitous or unnecessary pain is wrong and should be avoided. Some theories try to ground that moral claim in more fundamental moral claims, while others, such as utilitarianism, treat "pain is bad" as a fundamental fact from which to derive moral conclusions. If you believe there are no moral truths, then sadism is not immoral because nothing is, but in that case, there's nothing special about sadism except that, like rape or murder, it is a particularly counterintuitive case for people who think there are no moral truths.

A more interesting question is whether masochism is immoral (i.e., deriving pleasure from the experience of pain, though this definition itself is philosophically perplexing if one defines pain and pleasure as opposites!). Or what to think about a sadist and a masochist getting together--a case that is sometimes used to suggest utilitarianism is counterintuitive, since one can stipulate that getting these two people together is, according to some forms of utilitarianism, a good thing since it maximizes pleasure. I think there are probably ways to argue that sado-masochism is also immoral, but such arguments will be more complicated than the ones that conclude sadism is immoral.

Yes, especially if it involves the actual infliction of pain on someone else, not just getting pleasure from watching real or fake depictions of people in pain. On every theory of morality, gratuitous or unnecessary pain is wrong and should be avoided. Some theories try to ground that moral claim in more fundamental moral claims, while others, such as utilitarianism, treat "pain is bad" as a fundamental fact from which to derive moral conclusions. If you believe there are no moral truths, then sadism is not immoral because nothing is, but in that case, there's nothing special about sadism except that, like rape or murder, it is a particularly counterintuitive case for people who think there are no moral truths. A more interesting question is whether masochism is immoral (i.e., deriving pleasure from the experience of pain, though this definition itself is philosophically perplexing if one defines pain and pleasure as opposites!). Or what to think about a sadist and a masochist getting together...

If being gay is in the genes, like some other mental illness, is it unethical to

If being gay is in the genes, like some other mental illness, is it unethical to make a gay pill to suppress the urge and make a nonprocreating human into a procreator.

There's a lot of subtext in your question--you seem to be suggesting that if there are genes that influence whether one is homosexual or heterosexual, that indicates that being gay is a mental illness. That would be a very strange argument, since the fact that there are genes that influence traits or behaviors says nothing about whether that trait or behavior is good or bad in either the biological or ethical sense.

Perhaps you are thinking that because homosexuals do not have the desire to mate with the opposite sex, any genes that may underlie homosexuality are "maladaptive" in the way some mental illnesses are caused by maladaptive genes. But that is also a mistake, since (a) in humans' past evolutionary environments homosexuals may have reproduced (they wouldn't be the only humans who have had sex for procreation without being particularly attracted to their mates!), (b) there are interesting data suggesting that homosexuality in some animal species (perhaps including humans and their ancestors) is a biological adaptation (the short story is that homosexuality might be associated with increased altruism towards relatives and hence cause a net increase in related genes), and (c) any genes related to homosexuality may have been selected for because they "code for" other traits that are adaptive, while homosexual feelings or behaviors are simply byproducts of those traits (this would not mean homosexuality was "maladaptive" any more than our ability to do calculus or dance the tango is maladaptive--the useful desires and abilities to do calculus and to dance are byproducts of other traits that were selected for).

So, all of this is to say that even IF there are genes that influence humans' sexual preferences (and that has not been demonstrated yet), then that does not suggest that homosexuality is biologically "unfit" or maladaptive in any way (as mental illnesses generally are). But whether there are such genes also says nothing about whether a pill could be created to suppress homosexual desires (or to suppress sexual desires in general, which may be useful for some politicians to have!). Such pills seem feasible as long as these desires and behaviors are influenced by the sorts of things pills influence (e.g., our brain states), as they surely are.

This brings us to another problematic implication of your question--that the lack of a desire to procreate (or lack of procreating behavior) is a bad thing that should be suppressed. In our current environment, it might be a good thing for humans to procreate less (and for some politicians to procreate less "diversely"). Of course, if no (or too few) humans wanted to have sex with the opposite sex, well, we might need to do something, but in that case I doubt it would take a pill to get people to either have heterosexual sex or to use the artificial means we have to reproduce.

I should add that if it turns out that homosexuality is shown to be more a matter of genes than upbringing or choice, then it seems like that would help people arrive at the ethical conclusion that there is no reason to discriminate against homosexuals (as we have, too slowly, arrived at that conclusion about race, gender, and indeed, some mental disorders). But the worry is that, using the weak arguments I discussed above, people may instead think that homosexuality is unnatural or maladaptive or an illness that needs to be cured (or worse, eliminated). So, if you did not mean anything like this by your question, I apologize that my answer sounds a little grumpy!

There's a lot of subtext in your question--you seem to be suggesting that if there are genes that influence whether one is homosexual or heterosexual, that indicates that being gay is a mental illness. That would be a very strange argument, since the fact that there are genes that influence traits or behaviors says nothing about whether that trait or behavior is good or bad in either the biological or ethical sense. Perhaps you are thinking that because homosexuals do not have the desire to mate with the opposite sex, any genes that may underlie homosexuality are "maladaptive" in the way some mental illnesses are caused by maladaptive genes. But that is also a mistake, since (a) in humans' past evolutionary environments homosexuals may have reproduced (they wouldn't be the only humans who have had sex for procreation without being particularly attracted to their mates!), (b) there are interesting data suggesting that homosexuality in some animal species (perhaps including humans and their...