Autonomous obedience vs. autonomous legislation

In the course of several posts I have struggled to articulate what I hope to show by justifying a moral principle for male sexuality and how I should go about showing it. The principle, in agreement with traditional Catholic morality, stated:

Thou shall not intentionally seek an orgasm except in coitus open to conception with a woman to whom you are committed for life to care for her and any child resulting from the coitus.

I hoped to show that independently of religious considerations, a man who follows, or struggles to follow, the principle has a character trait which makes him a better human being – a man closer to being as he ought to be than if he followed any other principle for sexuality.

I came to the conclusion that any arguments for the principle would have to be based on assumptions or, as I say, from a stance. Consequently, the arguments might not be compelling for all intelligent people. From a stance, arguments should be of two types. One line of argument would show that activity in accord with the principle is rational activity. Another line of argument would show that activity in accord with the principle is directed towards attaining and maintaining conditions good for human beings over and beyond the good of being rational. With respect to the principle for male sexuality, the human good would be life-long monagamous marriage.

I need to emphasize a feature of the human goods. They are not goods independent from morality with morality being a means to their attainment. The human goods attained and maintained by activity in accordance with the principle are not conditions apart from activity in accordance with the principle. Activity in accord with the principle is not only a means to the good but also a feature of the good brought about. For instance, activity in accord with a principle for traditional male sexuality not only produces a good marriage but it is also part of a good marriage.

I do not need to invent new arguments. For showing that the rationality of the activity, I can adapt arguments from what some call “The Old Natural Law Theory” or better: Thomistic Moral Theology. For showing that activity in accordance with the principle is directed towards human flourishing, I can adapt arguments from what is frequently called “New Natural Law Theory.”

I write of adapting the arguments because I do not make any assumption that an intelligent human being will take activity in accordance with the principle as morally binding upon clearly understanding the line of argument. There is still need for someone to choose to be obligated or something to impose the moral obligation.

As I interpret both types of natural law theories, they hold that nature -reality- formed human nature so that once a human being clearly recognizes that a principle promotes rational activity directed toward human good the human being because of a law for its nature chooses to be bound by and follow the principle. I believe that to be morally bound by a law there must always be the possibility of rejecting the law.

So I concluded my previous post confessing that I still felt that I had not uncovered all that I hoped for in a justification for a moral principle. Now I think that I can articulate what Ithought was lacking. I wanted to show that the moral principle is true and I do not think that reasoning alone brings us to moral truth.

Here is how the issue of truth comes up. After being persuaded by the arguments that activity in accord with the principle is rational and directed towards human good, there still needs to be imposition of a moral obligation to act in accord with this principle. This imposition could be self imposed or imposed by something outside our self.

Self imposed obligation could be called “autonomous moral legislation.” Unfortunately, autonomous moral legislation might be only a human decision to make such a moral rule. The rule could be invented; not discovered. It might be invented in response to our reasoning.

But how could a rule-an imperative- be discovered in thought independent reality? What corresponded to a rule in reality would not be a fact or a descriptive law of nature. It would have to be something like a command. At this time, the best I can say that the aspect of mind-independent reality corresponding to a moral law would be something we “hear” rather than “see,” and have the possibility of being accepted and obeyed or being rejected and disobeyed. If, and this is a huge “if,” there is something like hearing an imperative from mind independent reality, then there is a true or actual imperative. Still, though, there is a need for a choice to accept or reject the imperative. This could be called the “autonomy of obedience.”

If there is a place for autonomy of moral obedience, then we can talk of moral laws being true.

Consider a definition of “truth” which extends it to include truth for norms.

Truth for facts and norms

For facts to think what is true is to think of what is that it is and to think of what is not that it is not.
For norms to think what is true is to accept as obligatory what ought to be and to accept as forbidden what ought not be.

But if we can receive moral laws from an moral authority in mind independent reality, what is the role of arguments for moral principles? The arguments are valuable checks on illusions with respect to hearing the moral law, they help us to articulate what we hope to discover as true, they show others the plausibility of our rules and may lead others to investigate our moral rules. *

In my book, I struggled in Chapter XI with laying out what beyond reasoning needs to be done to discover what we ought to do.

* My book Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional Sexual Morality as an Antidote to Nihilism was released by Tate Publishing on March 11, 2014. See Book Web Page for information about the book. See Ch. IV for my justification see pp. 72ff. for discussion of moral harm. Free copies can be obtained here by credit card by paying $3.75 for shipping and handling.

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