Philosophical Arguments as Guides to Reality

This is the correction about my understanding of philosophical arguments promised in Choosing not to Live .

This post explicitly rejects a suggestion of some of my posts that the main purpose of philosophical argument is to trace out logical connections between beliefs so that we can accuse others of logical inconsistency if they hold some beliefs while rejecting others. In particular, I want to set aside the claim in Choosing Not to Live vs Choosing to be Killed that necessarily there is a logical contradiction between holding beliefs justifying suicide but rejecting nihilism.

Choosing Not to Live vs Choosing to be Killed

Added comment: This post brings out that opposition to assisted suicide presupposes a soul seperable from the body, a God who sets a destiny for humans and holds the soul in existence for that destiny to be attained. With these presuppositions, opposition to assisted suicide is religious. Because of the immense amount of suffering in illnesses and aging, utilitarian considerations would justify assisted suicides.

I have argued that choosing assisted suicide presupposes the nihilistic outlook that human life has no purpose. At biological death the individual vanishes. Moral nihilism is part of this nihilistic stance. Since morality has no point, it really does not matter what we do. The good and the bad meet the same fate of simply vanishing into atoms in the void. I intended the argument to be strong in the sense that this nihilism was a logical consequence of choosing suicide or to be killed. Necessarily someone choosing suicide,who thought clearly and in depth, would think nihilism is correct.

Added October 3, 2022: See Philosophical Arguments as Guides to Reality for an important correction to what I intend to accomplish with philosophical arguments.

In fact, though, people might choose assisted suicide without thinking through the issues. Such people might very likely neither think nor feel nihilistic despite choosing to be killed.

I have also argued that a choice of assisted suicide is immoral. Can I consistently make a living will specifying that no extra ordinary means be used to keep me alive? Can I consistently choose not to live without presupposing nihilism?

In preparation for this post, I worked through an on-line living will form. I specified that I wanted no ventilators, feeding tubes or dialysis. I allowed transfusions and medication because I thought they were ordinary means for keeping some alive. My thought was to avoid any restriction on medical treatment which seemed too close to directly stopping my life.

Reflection on my thinking reveals that I distinguish my biological life from my being a moral agent. A moral agent has obligations; and most importantly, a way he or she ought to be. From the moment of conception, a human has a way he or she ought to be. The crucial premise in my argument against suicide, referenced above, holds: Under no conditions am I permitted to choose not to be a morally correct human being.

Admittedly, I did not aim at keeping my biological life at all costs. So, I did not aim at the good of biological life. Neither, did I aim at stopping the good of biological life. I refused to stop the good of biological life, because I aimed at maintaining my moral being a morally correct human being.

I have given a Kantian argument for imperishability of the soul.This soul is our moral being – the way we ought to be.

The purpose of these posts on choosing death is to uncover presuppositions on letting oneself die without immorality or nihilism. The way sketched above brings out that in this instance the divinity dimension of divine command morality is used. I assume a soul distinct from the body which is the way one ought to be. To let oneself die without aiming at destroying ones soul, which is nihilism, one needs to assume that God keeps the soul in existence to become what it ought to be.

Male Masturbation is a Grave Matter

Why do I sincerely belief that male masturbation is a grave matter? I realize that from the currently popular utilitarian moralities masturbation is a paradigm of triviality.

I wrote in Moral Gravity as Degrees of Disobedience to a Moral Authorityy: An act is a grave moral matter if its performance is the highest degree of disobedience to the moral commander. I proposed further that logical distance from basic moral principle measured degree of disobedience to commands. Acts whose wrongness is almost axiomatic are grave matters.

“Logical distance” refers to the number of theoretical assumptions and factual claims added to basic moral principles to show that an act is wrong. It is really common sense. For instance, the notion of logical distance explains the frequent discussions in my high school religion classes on how far a boy could go with a girl before it became a mortal sin. If much imaginative details needed to be added to show how the conduct led to the boy and girl physically stimulating each other sexually the conduct was not gravely wrong – not a mortal sin.

Back to the question: Why hold that male masturbation is immoral and from a Catholic perspective a grave matter, a mortal sin?

Strong cases can be made for the following claims. Making these cases was writing to convince myself that the claims are correct. I intend my writings help others do the same. Of course, the details cannot be repeated here.

1.There are basic moral laws and they are best understood as commands of a supernatural moral authority.

A case for a moral theory based on rules commanding pursuit of basic human goods is developed in several posts over two or three years. A post with which to start is Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality . “Authoritarian” was a bad label. I now call it “command moral theory.”

2. The Paternal Principle, used below, is one of these basic moral commands. See Chapter IV of my book* for an extended discussion in favor of taking the Paternal Principle as axiomatic or properly basic principle of even purely secular morality.

3. There is a reality upon which all other realities depend for their existence , viz. God.
See A Proof of the Existence of God for one of several posts on the Transcendent.

4. The moral commander can be understood as that God upon which all realities depend,
See Moral Authority as God .

These four claims entail that the Paternal Principle is a direct command of God.

What is this Paternal Principle?

The Paternal Principle tells us that a man should intentionally seek an orgasm only in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom he has a life-long commitment to care for her and any conception resulting from their coitus.

A condemnation of male masturbation, and incidentally male homosexuality, is an immediate corollary of the Paternal Principle.

Hence, male masturbation and homosexual acts are contrary to morality and, from a Catholic perspective properly regarded as grave matters.

* My book is Confronting Sexual Nihilism, Oklahoma City, 2014. A free copy of my book is available by emailing

Using Divinity in Divine Command Morality

In a post arguing that male masturbation is a grave matter , I explicitly referred to an argument for God’s existence and justification for interpreting moral commands as coming from God. There I talked about God because I was explicitly trying to interpret a teaching of Catholicism was a grave matter. I had made the point earlier that moral gravity was a religious dimension of morality; not purely a moral question.

My treatment of this issue illustrates how, in general, I use the divinity in divine command morality. For purely moral matters, there is no use of the belief that moral laws and the human goods which are the goals of the moral laws are from God. The moral reasoning of someone who holds divine command morality is accessible to an atheist. Not surprisingly, the divine source of morality is invoked only when one is interested in religious matters, viz., that which is connected with divinity.

It may be surprising, though, that one can hold both that masturbation is a grave matter and, though immoral, a trivial matter. It is a grave matter with respect to how one relates to God. For social and legal control, masturbation is a trivial matter in the sense that it is something about which nothing much needs to be done to protect the public from it. I make a similar judgment about male homosexual acts. They are immoral. But if kept “in the closet,” I think they are socially harmless immoralities.

My judgment about the triviality of the immoralities of masturbation and sodomy are factual judgments; not moral judgments. I could very well be in error about their triviality. I am convinced of their immorality and gravity, viz., they are mortally sinful. I have not started a careful sociological investigation of the connection between male masturbation and the vast destructive pornography industry. Pursuit of stimulation for masturbation satisfications might be on of the most destructive social forces.

Nihilistic Eschatology and Soteriology

A Sept. 18, 2022 ,New York Times article reported some Canadian experts worrying whether Canada’s legal assisted suicide is too permissive. From 2016 through December of 2021, 31,664 Canadians have received assisted deaths. Of those, 224 who died last year were not terminally ill, taking advantage of last year’s amendment. It is a typical in depth New York Times article with opinions form several points of view. There were serious concerns about gradually permitting elimination of the disabled and frail elderly. I did not detect any explicit objection that it is categorically wrong. But one clear “take away” is that there is strong support for assisted suicide in Canada, the United States and Europe. I am not entering the debate on the morality of various conditions for permitting legal assisted suicide. For there is no moral thinking about assisted suicide beyond pointing out that it is intrinsically evil. The opinions in the article have a tone of moral seriousness which is undercut by the topic about which they speak so seriously.

I have argued that suicide is categorically forbidden.

Trying to think morally about the permissibility of assisted suicide leads to thinking that there is no morality. It leads to thinking that nothing is good and nothing matters: Nihilism. This line of thought develops because thinking about suicide leads to thinking about death, obviously. Thinking of any death as a good because death is annihilation is a poison pill for moral thought. Thinking about death leads to thinking about the point, if any to human life. If there is no point to human life, then there is no point to morality. Pointless morality is no morality at all.

Consider the following line of thought in which I generalize what I think is good for me.

If I think that suicide is permissible for me, then I think that my total annihilation is ultimately a good for me. If I think that total annihilations is ultimately a good for me, then I think that for every human total annihilation is a good. Think about it; ultimately there is a time in any life in which life has gone on too long for any natural satisfactions. There are no obligations to produce human good because ultimately the good for any human is not to have any good.

In theological language the line of thought is as follows. Permissibility of suicide presupposes an eschatology of death as non-being. This eschatology leads to a soteriology as salvation is non-being. No morality is required for this salvation since “All men are mortal” entails that all are saved.

None of this shows that humans ought not be morally serious about alleviating human suffering. It notes only that one of the remedies from a genuinely moral point of view for alleviating misery should not be directly taking human life.

Non-Sexist Morality is Misogynistic

I am not digressing from trying to articulate what a morally grave matter might be. I intend to resume with specifying what it might mean to say that male masturbation is a grave matter. Focusing on male masturbation involves using a sexist moral theory. A sexist moral theory presupposes that some sexual obligations and privileges are prefaced with “because you are a woman” and “because you are a man.” I defend using a sexist morality in my book* although I did not there point out the misogyny of a non-sexist morality.

This observation of this post is also a critique of the moral theories used to justify abortion on demand. See Banning Abortions Might Undercut Prolife Goals It also supports a much earlier post that it is the prochoice camp and not the prolife groups that are waging a war on women. See HHS Mandate as a War on Women .

A rational person valuing autonomy could not consistently will that nature should be designed so that half the people seeking to satisfy a extremely strong inclination risk losing their autonomy. I will not digress to any discussion of Kantian moral theory. I want only to note that I need to set aside much of Kantian moral theory which has influenced me greatly. Kantian morality is non-sexist. The brief allusion to Kantian reasoning brings out a “hatred” of a non-sexist morality for the reality that nature has created men and women; more exactly a hatred for human sexual reproduction.

I won’t cite many implicitly misogynistic pleas, many by women, that we cannot have full sexual equality until women have the possibility of the same sexual freedom men allegedly have. I sketch an argument without details of daily between the sexes. The argument expresses opposition to women as they are naturally. With “women as they are naturally,” I refer to the way women were before birth control pills enabled millions, if not billions, of women to be infertile through most of their reproductive years. Implicitly, I think, Paul VI’s 1968 Humanae Vitae condemned use of The Pill because it would be a major step toward suppressing femininity.

(1)If morality is non-sexist, then sexual activity should not place obligations on women which are not placed on men.
(2) If women should stay as they are naturally, then sexual activity places obligations on women which are not placed on men.
Hence,(3) if morality is non-sexist, then women should not stay as they are naturally.

* Confronting Sexual Nihilism Oklahoma City, 2014 A free copy of my book is available by emailing me at

Banning All Abortions May Undercut the Pro-Life Cause

Recently, around Labor Day 2022, I received a letter from the Population Research Institute (PRI) asking me to sign a petition to Governor Mike DeWine to illegalize all abortions in Ohio. There are many reasons why I did not sign the petition; not the least of which is the fact that a generous donation was requested to accompany the signed petition. I have up to $100 for pro-life causes. I donate only to pregnancy care centers.

Here, though, my objection to the petition is that trying to ban all abortions, will misdirect the abortion debate from the rights of the unborn to an abstract moral theory debate about the rights of women in an ideally just society. The pro-life moral vision will not prevail in the debate.

In my opinion, the dominant, although incorrect, moral vision sees a just society as one in which the only features and conditions traditionally linked with biological sex are those an individual chooses to have.

From this perspective, consider a women’s right to choose abortion versus her fetuses’ right to life. For this moral vision, individual autonomy is a supreme value. A life without autonomy is not worth living! Any rational being, or potentially rational being, would not choose to being compelled to provide life support for another. So, a fetus would choose to be born into a society where pregnant women would have unrestricted right to abortion. So, a fetus would choose to be aborted if its mother so chose. For considering how life might go from behind a ” veil of ignorance” on what kind of person one would be, the rational fetus would choose to live in a pro-choice society if born a woman.

Currently, in Ohio, abortions are banned after the detection of cardiac activity. Debate can focus on the rights of fetuses at this stage versus the health needs of the mother. The rights of the fetus are not considered in the realm of purely rational beings making choices about rights. See Abortion as a Save, Legal but Rare Grave Evil for defending lives by continually working to make legal abortions rare. This approach maintains the nastiness of specific types of abortion before the public mind instead of on the rights of women.

I claim that the pro-life moral vision will not prevail because social contract methodology lies deep in contemporary moral thought. What is just is determined by imagining what rational beings would choose if they did not know how their life would go. If autonomy is presupposed as a supreme value, we get the moral vision on abortion I sketched above.

Given that social contract thinking is dominant, and autonomy now is a supreme value, a general moral debate about abortion will leave the pro-choice perspective victorious.

My efforts in these blog posts is to recover from out traditions an alternative moral theory. But if I have anything to add, it will be generations before the social contract methodology and autonomy pass away.

Perhaps, it is not so much the social contract methodology as the emphasis on autonomy which is so corrupting.

Eve’s Eating the Apple is the Paradigmatic Grave Matter

The Gravity of Eating the Apple of Eden

God directly commanded Adam and Eve not to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They disobeyed That disobedience was a grave matter. It was bad enough for humanity to be banished from paradise. We had to struggle with choices of good and evil as a fallen race; always being by our own choices less than what we ought to be.

It is not my intention to develop an interpretation of the Adam and Eve myth. It is my intention to support my interpretation of “grave matter” as disobedience to the divine moral commander. My definition of “grave matter” is not idiosyncratic. In a fundamental myth of our civilization a physical and moral triviality has existential consequences for all of humanity. The only outstanding feature of eating the apple was its relation to God’s command. That relational property made an act of apple eating a grave matter.

The Adam and Eve myths are well worth taking seriously by all of us whether religious or irreligious, atheists or theists, educated or uneducated and young or old. The myths are clear and interesting shared stories for a wide variety of discussions of the human condition. Probably, the only uninteresting discussion of the myths is whether or not they report literally true facts of human history. To learn from a myth requires putting yourself, imaging yourself, in the story. One blessing we did not lose in the “fall” is our capacity to live vicariously in stories.

For uses of Adam and Eve myth see Moral Gravity and Forgiveness of Original Sin and the last paragraph of The Supernatural Origin of Humanity

Moral Gravity as Degrees of Disobedience to a Moral Authority

It is inconsistent to use “moral gravity” to specify degrees of immorality. However, my Church uses a concept of moral gravity to mark out some acts as morally grave. If the “matter of the act” – what the act is- is morally grave and done with full consent of the will after sufficient reflection the act is a mortal sin. For the Church, “morally grave” has the negative connotation of morally wrong. I intend to follow the Catholic Church’s usage.

(Added Sept. 1, 2022: Perhaps I should not write of “morally grave matter” but write simply “grave matter. For when I transition from command moral theory to divine command moral theory, I should allow for direct commands of God to do more than what is morally required. But I do not need to allow for the prospect of the divine moral commanded directly commanding an act contrary to morality. For in development of this moral theory we move up from being a moral commander to being a divine moral commander.)

The question remaining for me is, “What do I intend to say about acts when I follow the Church in labelling them “grave matters?” I am developing an intension -definition- to cover the extension picked out by the Church’s use of “grave matter.”

Here is how the Church specifies “grave matter” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.”132 The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.

For one, I intend to use it with the negative connotation of being wrong. To say that a type of act is a grave matter is to say that it ought not be done.

But of most importance, I intend to use it as a moral concept in command moral theory and then as a religious morality concept in divine command moral theory. Because I intend to use the concept of “grave moral matter” in divine command moral thinking, I wrote of grave matter as generally “something which ought not be done” instead of as specifically “something which ought not morally be done.”

There are no degrees of immorality. But there can be degrees of the disobedience in the disobeying of a moral command. Disobeying a moral command places an agent in confrontation with the moral commander. This confrontation need not be total confrontation which puts the agent at enmity with the moral commander.

So, I propose to use “moral gravity” to measure the degree of disobedience in disobeying a moral command. An act is a grave moral matter if its performance is the highest degree of disobedience to the moral commander.

There is a critical point in the gravity of acts at which they become grave. Below this point grievousness is not grave. At this critical point acts are grave. Above this critical point acts become more and more grave.

How might we decide that an act is a grave matter? If we stay at the level of command moral theory, brevity of the argument to show that the act violates a moral command might measure degree of disobedience. Acts whose wrongness is almost axiomatic would be grave matters. If we move to religious command theory, resources of the religion such as scriptures, tradition and teaching authority are available to specify what comes directly from the religious moral commander.

Note, though, neither the intentions of the agent, the circumstances of the act and consequences of the act are used to determine its gravity. The gravity of an act, thus, seems similar to intrinsic immorality of acts. Gravity, though, is a concept of a relation between the act and the moral commander; thus, not only about features intrinsic to the act. Independently of the performance of an act, there is a degree of command relation between the moral commander and the act. There is a varying degree of directness of command. That relation prior to performance is measured by moral gravity. There is a declining scale of directness of command by the moral authority of immoral acts.

For instance, Killing someone is directly forbidden by the Fifth Commandment. But punching someone in the face is only a distant implication of this commandment.

Call the performance of an act an “action.” The sinfulness of an action is not an intrinsic feature of the act performed. Sinfulness is a relation between the agent of an action and the moral commander. Sinfulness comes in degrees and it depends upon the intention of the agent and the agent’s circumstances as well as what is done, viz., the matter of the action.

Inconsistency of Using “Moral Gravity” to Specify Degrees of Morality

In intelligent usage, “moral” and “immoral” do not admit of gradations. Acts are immoral or not.

When people jokingly profess that everything, they like is illegal, fattening or immoral, they do not really mean “immoral.” They do not think that their little vices are really immoral practices. They mean that what they are referring to as immoral has been erroneously thought to be immoral.

For people who speak carefully about morality, calling an an act already labeled “immoral” seriously immoral is a confusing redundancy. It is like saying the act is seriously a serious matter. I do not want to revise this feature of moral thought because it rests upon a fundamental feature of moral thought. This fundamental feature can be called the “over riding “ or “dominating” feature of morality. If an act A is obligatory, it ought to be done regardless of the consequences of doing A. If an act A is forbidden A ought not be done regardless of the consequences of refraining from A.

People who hold a consequentialist theory of morality accept the dominance of morality. Consequentialists accept that if act A has the best overall consequences, then A is to be done regardless of the consequences of not doing alternatives to A.

To appreciate the overriding implications of the concept of immoral, imagine someone saying, “I know it is immoral but what are the other reasons for not doing it?” We can rightly suspect that person of not understanding what is implied by admitting that an act is immoral. Admitting that an act is immoral is admitting that there is a sufficient reason for not doing it. Imagine further you ask, “What else do you want to know about doing it?” He replies, “I want to know how refraining from this act promotes my happiness.” Now, our proper response is, “If promoting your happiness is a standard you use in deciding on morality, you made a conceptual mistake in not considering promotion of your happiness before admitting that the act was immoral.”

So, it is inconsistent to talk of degrees of morality. Hence, if “moral gravity” is to be used consistently, it should not be used to speak of degrees of being immoral.