Monthly Archives: July 2022

Why Is Masturbation Gravely Wrong?

Why Sexual Wrongs as Gravely Wrong

In this post, I try to make a case that all sexual wrongs are gravely wrong, by making a case that masturbation is intrinsically gravely wrong. I make this attempt under the assumption that that some sexual acts are intrinsically wrong. Masturbation and homosexual acts are included in this assumption.

The assumption of the intrinsic immorality of male masturbation and male homosexual acts is well justified. The purpose of male orgasm is procreation and the unitive bond of male and female. These basic human goods are never to be directly inhibited. Male masturbation and homosexual acts directly inhibit the procreative and unitive goods of sexuality. So, they are always on the wrong side of being right. That takes care of intrinsic wrongness.

See Intrinsic Wrong vs. Formal Wrong for a defense of using “intrinsically wrong instead of formally wrong.

But how wrong? How grave? Compared with all the horrible evil humans inflicted upon one another, a couple of guys messing with each other’s penises seems naughty rather than evil.

In common sense and the law, the graveness of an immoral act is extrinsic to a wrong act. Gravity depends upon inflicting serious physical or mental harm or being done with the intent to inflict such harm. It is obvious that masturbation is not extrinsically grave as we ordinarily talk about gravity of offenses.

I could specify other extrinsic feature of masturbation as what makes it grave.

The Catholic church – my church- has simply specified that it is grave where “gravity” means that it must be forgiven in a sacrament of confession as a condition for avoiding the even more grave evil of receiving the Eucharist without such sacramental forgiveness. Of course, organizational specification of a type of act as gravely wrong is a feature external to the act.

Other external feature of sexual acts felt to be immoral, are cultural judgments about the gravity of these acts. Personally, I think that a horrible feature of humanity is the horror felt against sexual wrongs. These harsh attitudes and action upon them vary from place to place and time to time. But harsh societal reaction to harmless sexual acts is real. There may be social evolutionary explanations for these harsh judgments about sexual misconduct.

But the goal is to try to articulate the insight of the Church in her imposition of such sacramental requirements.
So, if masturbation is a grave wrong, its gravity must be intrinsic.

I suggest the following. The masturbator recklessly treats making the act for continuing humankind incapable of continuing humankind. That reckless attitude towards what is necessary for humanity to exist is a grave matter.

More generally, why might all sexual wrongs be gravely wrong? Other wrongs inhibit goods such as knowledge, friendship and beauty. But sexual wrongs inhibit human life. The fundamental nature of life for other goods makes inhibition of life a grave matter.

Command Morality Instead of Authoritarian Morality

As of July 25, 2022, I am changing the name of the moral theory I am developing from “Authoritarian Morality” to “Command Morality.” The term “authoritarian” has too many negative connotations. Besides “Command Morality” is better for representing morality as divine commands. The focus ought to be on interpreting the commands of morality as divine commands. There is no motivation for interpreting the divine source of morality as authoritarian.

Authentic Male Opposition to Abortion

Coitus Without Commitment is Essentially Abortive

Coitus is for creation of new life in two ways*. One: It is for conception. Two: It is for the creation of the unity striving to emerge which is the male/female monogamous lifelong bond – the nuptial pair. In coitus without commitment such as in prostitution and casual sex, there is mutual dismissal of both of the goods. In intention any conceptus is aborted and in fact the joint new life is aborted.

It is not surprising, as Christine Emba reports that casual sex is disappointing. As the couple go their separate ways, one or both, are vulnerable to a sense of having pleasure at the expense of destroying new life. Implicitly we have a sense of coitus as immensely important. (Social-biological speculation could easily invent evolutionary hypotheses about why the life-giving activity would not be taken lightly.) If there was pleasure, it was for nothing. In a coitus fully open to conception and nuptial bonding, the pleasure is carried forward as having been an aid in forming the nuptial bond.

Here, though, my focus is on male sexual morality. My goal is not a therapeutic goal of advising men on how to avoid regret about unsatisfying sex. I do not rely upon men feeling inchoate regret about pointless sex as do the women in Ms. Emba’s stories. On the whole, men may not be seriously dissatisfied with promiscuity. We ought to be. By reflecting on the double abortive element in promiscuous sex, I propose a standard for men to morally judge their actions – themselves and one another. It is directed to men who profess to be opposed to abortion.

Never lie with a woman if you are not willing to be her exclusive sexual partner and to care for her and any child which might result from your coitus with her.

A male who does not accept the above standard is not authentically opposed to abortion.
Also a nasty A-word describes his character.

*See Susanna Spencer’s
July 25, 2022 National Catholic Register article for a clear account of Catholicism’s development of the Church’s doctrine on this bifold good of sexuality

Moral Gravity and Forgiveness of Original Sin

Moral Gravity and Forgiveness of Original Sin

I use this topic to speculate on the Christian Paschal mystery. I try to show that taking gravity -the seriousness – of an offense as an intrinsic feature of the offense is a theologically rich concept although in secular thinking gravity of an offense is extrinsic.

A fruitful opening question runs “Is an intrinsically grave wrong forgivable?” We turn away from legal and ordinary moral thinking because there are no intrinsically grave acts for those ways of thinking. For in legal and everyday moral thinking gravity depends upon the harm done by the act and the intention of the actor to do harm in the circumstance.

In the previous post, it was proposed that by interpreting moral rules as divine commands, we might be able to develop a concept of intrinsically grave wrong. Consider the following working definition.

An act is an intrinsically grave wrong if it is direct disobedience of a command of God. In the Judaic-Christian myth, Eve’s eating the apple was a grave wrong despite the triviality of eating an apple and Eve’s good intention to attain knowledge of good and evil. On the tempter’s suggestion, she directly with full consent of her will disobeyed God’s command. Adam endorsed and participated in the disobedience. So, at our beginning, humanity, represented by Adam and Eve, has directly willed to disobey God’s commands. So, from our beginning we are guilty of grave wrongs. For what Adam and Eve’s choice represents is each of us, except Mary mother of Jesus, accepting as a live option choosing evil – defiance of God – as a means to good.

How can God forgive us for that?

Consideration of what is involved in direct defiance of God, shows what might be needed to forgive such a wrong. Direct disobedience of a command of God is to will not to be as God wills us to be. However, willing not to be as God wills us to be is to will not to be at all. For what God does not will is nothing. So, Adam and Eve willed not to be – that is total evil: complete lack of any being.

I am using a command theory of morality in which choice of wrong requires retributive punishment.

Choice of wrong is choice to have a good inhibited. In general, the retributive punishment for choice of a good not to be is to be deprived of the good one chose to inhibit i.e., not to be. For instance, the apt retributive punishment for choosing death for another in murder is to lose one’s own life. So, in the case of Adam and Eve’s choice of not to be, the suitable retributive punishment is not to be. But, in this model of original sin, based on the Adam and Eve myth, Adam and Eve chose for humanity. The punishment, then, would be the annihilation of humanity.

God forgave Adam and Eve, viz., humanity, by not requiring of us the evil of annihilation that we have chosen. But how might God have forgiven the punishment? God gave humanity free will. Humanity used free will to choose not to be. Letting the choice of a free will come about is a great good because free will is a great good. So, God would not hinder the choice of humanity to be annihilated. But annihilation of humanity would be an evil – lack of being for all humans. God loves, wills the good, of humans. So, God wills that human not be annihilated as they have chosen.

How can God protect us from our punishment of annihilation which we have chosen? God becomes incarnate as a the human Jesus. In Jesus’ execution, human nature was annihilated as a punishment, Jesus’ death was more than our deaths. Jesus’s death was total annihilation. Jesus suffered exceedingly. As a man he suffered horrible biological death on the cross. After biological death, he suffered the total evil -non being- of annihilation which is hell. Only God who sustains all things in being could have had human nature annihilated, kept humans in existence and then re-created human nature.

Intrinsic Gravity and Divine Command Morality

Is Moral Gravity Intrinsic to Acts

In this post, I reconsider previous posts in which I treated moral gravity as a feature which depended upon subjective reactions to what was done and the harm produced by what was done. From that perspective moral gravity is extrinsic to the act done – the so-called object of the action. This reconsideration reinforces the previous view that for moral, legal and ordinary judgments about wrongdoing, gravity is extrinsic to object of the act.

However, there is the prospect that for divine command morality, gravity is intrinsic to some acts. This is an intriguing proposal for those of us who favor interpreting morality as divine commands. Simply representing morality as divine commands is not especially interesting. It would be of more interest to construct a model of morality as divine commands which yielded all of secular morality plus some additional rules requiring the religious interpretation of morality.

I start my reviewing four basic concepts for evaluating actions.

1. The intention of the person doing the action (-the actor)
2. The circumstances in which the act is done or to be done.
3. The object of the action – a characterization of the act – the object of the choice
4. The consequences of what is done or to be done.

An action is intrinsically wrong if the object of choice is wrong regardless of the intention, circumstances or consequences. Let’s illustrate use of these concepts with two thefts: Shoplifting a $.25 candy bar from a UDF convenience store and robbing the store at gunpoint of all $250 in its cash register.

Case one

Actor: 9-year-old boy
Intention: To get the candy bar to enjoy eating it.
Object: Taking what belongs to another – stealing
Circumstances: Normal activity of a convenience both before and after the theft
Consequences: Insignificant loss of revenue for the store but boy’s character is corrupted by starting him on the way to being a thief.

Case two

Actor: 19-year-old youth (boy of case one ten years later)
Intention: to get the cash to enjoy the drugs the case can buy
Object: Taking what belongs to another – stealing
Circumstances: Use of a deadly weapon
Consequences: Fairly significant loss to the store and traumatization of the cashier

There could be much discussion about the characterization of these four features. The characterizations would influence the moral judgments about the actions. Even if use of these four marks does not settle moral disputes about actions, they provide a framework for specifying the topic of disagreements. In these two cases, I think that it is fair to characterize the objects of choice very broadly as simply theft with no mention of intentions. For my goal is to investigate whether we can plausibly characterize the object as grave in both cases.

If gravity were intrinsic to some actions, I think that there would be some objects of actions which are intrinsically grave. An object of an action would be intrinsically grave if it were grave independently of any circumstances, intentions or consequences of the action. In particular, in these two cases the gravity of the thefts would depend only upon the object which is stealing. So if the $250 theft at gunpoint is a grave wrong, then so is the $.25 pilfering of a candy bar. Alternatively, if the candy bar theft is not grievously wrong, neither is the armed robbery.

A conclusion that both acts are equally bad certainly conflicts with legal policy. There are all sorts of degrees of misdemeanors and felonies. Morality and common-sense reject ignoring the amount stolen in deciding upon the seriousness of the crime.

Zero-tolerance policies propose that all violations of a rule receive an identical harsh punishment. But zero-tolerance policies clash with morality and common sense and the burden of proof is upon them to justify making seriousness intrinsic to the act.

Ordinary morality is in a state of confusion about abortion in July of 2022. Still, it is easy to appreciate how some who think that abortion is morally wrong tentatively believe that gestational time of the fetus is relevant to the moral gravity of an abortion. Gestational time is extrinsic to the act of aborting.

So, if some acts are intrinsically grave, the gravity must be determined by factors beyond secular morality. I propose exploring divine commands as that which makes certain violations intrinsically grave.

Contraception as Intrinsically Wrong but Not Gravely Wrong

Contraception as Intrinsically Wrong but Not Gravely Wrong

This post develops my previous post in which I distinguished being instrinsically wrong from being gravely, or seriously, wrong. I speculate judging contraceptive coitus of a married couple as intrinsically wrong but not, in general, gravely wrong. I am a Catholic. But what I write here is definitely not Catholic teaching. The thesis of marital contaception as only a venial sin is only presented for consideration.

An intrinsically wrong act is morally wrong regardless of the intention of the actor, circumstances in which it is performed and consequences of its performance. The gravity of an act can be mitigated by the intention of the actor, circumstances in which it is performed and the consequences of the performance of the act. The mitigating factors are not excuses for the wrong act although they may be considerations for mitigating punishment. I have not yet discovered a precise way of distinguishing gravely wrong from not being gravely wrong.

A paradigm distinguishing an intrinsically wrong act from a gravely wrong act is shoplifting a candy bar from a UDF convenience store and confusing a clerk at an AT&T store to walk away with a $500 cell phone. For theft the gravity mitigating factor is frequently the monetary value of the stolen item. I recall reading, once, that $25 marked the difference between a morally sinful theft and a venially sinful theft. That distinctiion seemed arbitrary to me.

Intrinsic wrongness is determined theoretically. If the theoretical determination is clearly developed, it is a deductive argument from theoretical premisses. Consider, for instance, a moral judgment against contraception.

A basic good of coitus is conception.
Coitus is a morally significant act.
It is always wrong to inhibit a basic good of a morally significant act.
Contraception inhibits the basic good of coitus.
Therefore, contraception is always wrong.

The circumstance of the contraception being an act of a married couple with children and planing to have more children in a year or so does not alter the theoretically determined judgment that the act is immoral. Theoretically, it is on the “wrong side” of being right.

A judgment that the act is gravely wrong – a mortal sin requires more than the moral theory presupposed in the above deductive argument. I do not think that secular reasoning alone can support a theoretical principle that all sexual wrongs are gravely wrong. The notion of moral gravity is not clear enough and there seems to be sexually wrong acts which are not gravely wrong, viz., contraception of marital coitus.

However, living a good life is more than avoiding gross immorality. Even on a secular level, we need to consider the damage to our character by habitual performance of wrong acts, albeit venial immoral acts. On a religious level, it is folly to think God is indifferent to regular intentional disobedience.

Could anyone be genuinely seeking holiness while intentionally choosing what is immoral in any degree?

Intrinsically Wrong vs Gravely Wrong

Intrinsically Wrong vs Gravely Wrong

I think that it is Catholic moral teaching that all intrinsically wrong sexual acts are gravely wrong. All sexual sins are grievous sins. According to my Church: If an intrinsically wrong sexual act is done after sufficient reflection and full consent, it is a mortal sin. It must be absolved through the sacrament of reconciliation before the sinner is worthy to receive the Eucharist. If an intrinsically wrong act is not gravely wrong, it is only a venial sin. The fact that the gravity of all sexual sins is taught indicates that there is a distinction to be made between intrinsically wrong and gravely wrong.

An act is intrinsically wrong, if there are no circumstances, intentions or consequences under which it is morally permissible. It is always and everywhere simply wrong. For instance, shoplifting a candy bar from a UDF convenience store simply because you want it, is simply wrong: No excuses. The shoplifting is in the same class of criminal acts as robbing a UDF at gunpoint simply because you want the cash. Imagine how you think of the act of a teenage son caught doing the shoplifting.Once we think about how we conduct our daily lives, we can recall all sorts of little acts of rudeness, carelessness and dishonesty that were simply wrong.

I hope these few remarks suffice to show that for those who concede that there are intrinsically wrong acts, intrinsically wrong acts are not necessarily gravely wrong acts. Indeed, even those who do not concede that there are intrinsically wrong acts should concede the conceptual distinction.

Moral theory can tell us how to distinguish between acts which are intrinsically wrong and those which are only accidentally wrong. Determination of moral gravity is, I think, determined by the consequences of the act. But what kind of consequences and how to weigh them is too complex to consider here.

We should, though, avoid the fallacious inference from “it is not gravely wrong” to “It is not wrong.”

In a later post, I argue that careful moral thinking has no place for talk of moral gravity. See Inconsistency of moral gravity.

Why the Function of Sexuality Is a Moral Purpose

My moral defense of sexual privacy me to a break-through in how to justify and defend principles of traditional sexual morality. I finally employed the improved way of thinking about sexual morality which I have been developing in these blog posts in the eight years since I published my book, Confronting Sexual Nihilism. *

In Confronting Sexual Nihilism, I faced a theoretical problem challenging all of us who, in the last analysis, morally condemn a wide range of sexual acts as frustrating the natural function of the acts in question. In general, though, frustrating natural functions is morally accepted and, indeed, morally required. So, why, select from the innumerable morally neutral natural functions of natural functions the procreative and bonding function of human coitus as morally significant? Note in passing, that the problem is not about selecting procreation and bonding as THE function or main function. The main functions of most natural systems are also morally neutral.

In my book, I tried to solve the selection problem in a theoretically unsatisfactory way. I made an empirical case with anecdotal evidence that if we regarded our sexuality as too trivial for moral control or too animalistic for moral control, we alienated our sexuality from ourselves as moral beings. Then, assuming that sexual alienation was a bad condition, I justified taking a stance that the function of human coitus was a moral purpose. I did not answer why sexual alienation was a bad condition needing moral correction.

The selection of procreation and male female bonding purposes of coitus as morally significant requires argument that these purposes are basic human goods. It is not enough merely to observe that they are natural purposes. I believe that after careful reflection on natural facts about human sexuality a persuasive case can be made that these purposes are basic human goods. However, because the arguments require reflection on natural facts, I concede that intelligent people may not be persuaded. This lack of persuasive power arises because the notion of basic human good is tenditious. Basic human goods are obligatory goods. This means that we ought to pursue them and ought never act to inhibit them. It is the obligatory goodness which some might not accept. Obligatory goodness entails the notion of intrinsically immoral act. Intrinsically immoral acts are those intentionally inhibitingbasic goodness.

The selection problem for naturalistic sexual morality is solvable. But not without hard work. There is theoretical work in moral theory to establish a theory with a notion of obligatory goods. There is empirical work of making a case that procreation and life long male female bonding are obligatory goods.

* A free copy of my book can be ordered at

Difference Between Morals and Ethics

Rules vs Regulations Morals vs Ethics

Occasionally I have been asked about the difference between morals and ethics. I could never give a clear answer. There really is no precise distinction between morals and ethics. When I served in The Ohio State University department of philosophy, I never was aware of any precise difference. We might talk of hiring someone in moral philosophy while in the same conversation talk of hiring a person working in ethics. In a conversation about interpreting Kant, we would make all sorts of distinctions without any concern about whether we called our dispute about Kantian ethics or Kantian morality. However, we must have felt there was some distinction to be made between morals and ethics. For we would never have talked of hiring someone working in medical morality. The proper term was “medical ethics.”

I propose a distinction between morals and ethics based on another distinction I propose between rules and regulations.

Rules are basic action guiding principles such as “Drive at a safe speed.” Rules apply to a large variety of conditions. Regulations are action guiding principles for how to follow the rule in more specific situations such as “Drive 55mph at night.” In the United States, a distinction between rules and regulations is fairly clear. The constitution and the several legislatures specify the rules. The vast bureaucracy of regulatory agencies write regulations for following these rules.

However, the model of constitutional and legislative rules implemented by regulatory bodies does not quite suffice for making a rules/regulation distinction in morality. For the rules have a human source, viz., those who developed the constitution and the legislative bodies. We cannot specify a source for genuine moral rules .

However, the legislation/regulation distinction can be modified to accommodate morality by having an abstraction such as morality itself be the source of moral rules. On this model humans discovered moral rules; humans did not legislate them. Suppose, for instance, that people hold as a moral rule “Do not have non-consensual sex. “ Why do they old it? “Well, it is just wrong” they say “everybody knows, or should know that.” Unfortunately, there can be all sorts of disagreements about what constitutes consent. There needs to be regulations about what constitutes consent. Figuring out these regulations is sexual ethics.

So, the distinction between morals and ethics is that between fundamental moral rules and regulations for them. The fundamental rules bind everyone under all circumstances and are basic features of reality as are the laws of nature, mathematics and logic. Ethics comprises the human made action guiding regulations for applying these basic action guiding laws. The regulations are relative to cultures. The basic moral rules are not relative.

Those who reject absolute moral rules might find a substitute for morality in evolution. They might speculate that humans have evolved so as to have inhibitions against various types of destructive behavior. The articulation or implicit recognition of these inhibitions are the fundamental moral rules for which different cultures apply these rules under different conditions.

Real Moral Rules Come From No One

Real Rules Come From No One

I do not recall any book or article in which someone claims that we lose freedom if we accept moral rules which we have not made ourselves. So, here I am responding to remarks I have read or heard about contemporary opinion with regard to admitting being bound by moral rules which they have not made. Of course, if one makes up a moral rule by himself, it is not a moral rule. For rules one makes up for oneself can be revoked. Moral rules cannot be revoked.

Can rules restrict freedom? Of course, rules for any community or institution to which we belong, voluntarily or involuntarily, restrict our freedom by threatening sanctions if we do not obey. Nominally we are free to choose to accept the sanction. But freedom under threat of a sanction is not in general a freedom worth wanting.

Of course, if we are the boss who makes up the rules for the business or community, the rules do not restrict our freedom. The rules are for restriction of the employees or citizens’ freedom.

All of the rules for institutions and communities are objective. They are objective in the sense that it is a fact that such-and-such is a rule or not. Let’s call these rules natural rules because the rule makers are part of the natural world even if the rule comes from the traditions of a community.

So, people who think objective moral rules restrict their freedom, are thinking of objective moral rules as natural rules. From this perspective accepting objective moral rules is accepting as having our whole life being subject to the will of some rule giver. There is no escape such as going to another community or coming home from work where we are free of the work rules. Our whole life is bondage.

What are the implications of this type of mentality for my project of justifying moral rules?
When I try to justify a moral rule, I should raise considerations which lead me, my readers or listeners to accept the moral rule as irrevocable. Allegations that some authority commands these rules tends to undercut the case for the rules.

Only after we have accepted the rule as irrevocably binding may we ask what the source of these rules might be. An answer that the rules are divine commands is only a metaphysical interpretation of the rules. A divine foundation for morality is not an essential part of any argument for a moral rule.