Wednesday, October 25, 2017

So just what is the deal with sex, anyway?

So just what is the deal with sex, anyway? Why are we so prone to extremes where it is concerned? The reason, I would say, has to do with our highly unusual place in the order of things. Angels are incorporeal and asexual, creatures of pure intellect. Non-human animals are entirely bodily, never rising above sensation and appetite, and our closest animal relatives reproduce sexually. Human beings, as rational animals, straddle this divide, having as it were one foot in the angelic realm and the other in the animal realm. And that is, metaphysically, simply a very odd position to be in. It is just barely stable, and sex makes it especially difficult to maintain. The unique intensity of sexual pleasure and desire, and our bodily incompleteness qua men and women, continually remind us of our corporeal and animal nature, pulling us “downward” as it were. Meanwhile our rationality continually seeks to assert its control and pull us back “upward,” and naturally resents the unruliness of such intense desire. This conflict is so exhausting that we tend to try to get out of it by jumping either to one side of the divide or the other. But this is an impossible task and the result is that we are continually frustrated. And the supernatural divine assistance that would have remedied this weakness in our nature and allowed us to maintain an easy harmony between rationality and animality was lost in original sin. So, behaviorally, we have a tendency to fall either into prudery or into sexual excess. And intellectually, we have a tendency to fall either into the error of Platonism -- treating man as essentially incorporeal, a soul trapped in the prison of the body -- or into the opposite error of materialism, treating human nature as entirely reducible to the corporeal. The dominance of Platonism in early Christian thought is perhaps the main reason for its sometimes excessively negative attitude toward sexual pleasure, and the dominance of materialism in modern times is one reason for its excessive laxity in matters of sex. The right balance is, of course, the Aristotelian-Thomistic position -- specifically, Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical anthropology, which affirms that man is a single substance with both corporeal and incorporeal activities; and Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law theory, which upholds traditional sexual morality while affirming the essential goodness of sex and sexual pleasure. - Edward Feser

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